"Barred From the Churches of Our Birth"; Mormons Ban Equality Riders on All Church Property

Sexual Minority Mormon Youth Disenfranchised

For Immediate Release
Contact: Brandon Kneefel, West Bus Media Director
Cell: 612-715-6138, brandon@equalityride.com

(Salt Lake City, UT) — Late Thursday night Soulforce Equality Riders received a letter from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints asking that Equality Riders "not enter church property for any purpose."

The Equality Riders are 50 gay and straight young adults on a nationwide mission to dialogue about discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students at Christian colleges.

They had planned to volunteer at the church-affiliated Welfare Square Cannery and to visit Temple Square on Tuesday, March 20 to learn more about the LDS faith in preparation for a visit to Brigham Young University on Thursday, March 22.

"We are being told, beyond being barred from our schools, that we are barred from the very churches of our birth," said Matt Kulisch, a former BYU student and one of the organizers of the Equality Ride visit to BYU.

"Our families still go there to worship and find community. Our friends still go there to find identity and learn about morality and the experience of the divine. Now, we are no longer invited to join them." Kulisch is one of four 2007 Equality Riders with LDS roots.

Thursday’s letter, which was signed by Brent W. Roberts, Director of Headquarters Facilities, suggests that church property is not an appropriate space for "advocacy tactics that violate the law." Instead, Roberts directed the Equality Riders to "the wide public sidewalks that exist throughout Salt Lake City."

But the Equality Riders assert that their visit to Temple Square was not for dialogue or demonstration on issues that affect their plans for BYU.

"We had hoped to educate ourselves further about Mormon belief and culture at the center of the religious community. We hoped to come as tourists, like the thousands of others that come to this sacred site annually. We planned on showing Temple Square the same reverence we would any other place of worship. In short, we just wanted to visit," said Alexey Bulokhov, one of the West route co-directors.

"This letter represents a fundamental misunderstanding and misrepresentation of our purpose in coming to Salt Lake City. It was educational. Once again, BYU leadership passed on an opportunity for dialogue and discussion where the true intention of our visit could have been more fully explored," said Kulisch.

While their visit to LDS sacred sites was intended to be purely for the Riders’ educational benefit, the Equality Ride’s plans for BYU-Provo are different. The primary goal of the Soulforce Equality Ride visit to the BYU community is to end the suffering of LGBT youth, using dialogue and discussion to increase understanding about their experiences on campus.

On Wednesday, March 21, the Gay-Straight Alliance at Utah Valley State College — also in the Provo area — will host presentations from the Equality Riders in their Grand Ballroom on campus. Equality Riders hope to use these presentations as an opportunity to discuss the issues gay and lesbian students might face on BYU’s campus. The presentations are open to BYU and UVSC students from 10AM to 3PM.

On Thursday, March 22nd, Equality Riders and Provo community members will begin a six-hour "Walls of Jericho" march around the outskirts of the Brigham Young campus. During the march, Riders will hold a press conference for community members, students, and former students to present grievances, letters, and concerns to the BYU community. This List of Concerns represents contributions directly from the BYU community to the school administration. The press conference will be held at the corner of Bulldog and North Canyon at 11 a.m.

The BYU Student Honor Code states that "Advocacy of a homosexual lifestyle (whether implied or explicit) or any behaviors that indicate homosexual conduct, including those not sexual in nature, are inappropriate and violate the Honor Code."

Thursday’s events will end with a community rally. The rally will be held at Kiwanis Park at 5pm.

Soulforce Q is the young adult division of Soulforce, a social justice organization that works to end political and religious oppression of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. For more information go to www.soulforce.org or www.equalityride.com.

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