Equality Riders and Liberty U. Students Create Spirited Diaogue On Campus

Video Available Online

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SOULFORCE PRESS RELEASE: October 2, 2008
For Immediate Release

Contact: Caitlin MacIntyre, 
Equality Ride Media Director
Cell: 612-715-6138 Email: caitlin@equalityride.com
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(Lynchburg, Virginia) — Yesterday, 17 young adults arrived at Liberty University to continue a discussion about gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people and Christianity. The Soulforce Q Equality Ride, now in its third year, seeks to make faith-based college campuses safe and welcoming learning environments for all students by promoting dialogue about faith and fairness.

Liberty University, the first stop on this year’s Equality Ride, was visited by Soulforce Q in 2006 when over 20 people were arrested for trespassing as they attempted to enter campus to speak to students.

This year the Equality Ride received a different reception. Five Riders were allowed to enter campus to deliver books to the Guillerman Library. "Students have told us that when they visit Guillerman, books that affirm LGBT people are clearly absent," Katie Higgins, one of the Equality Ride’s Co-directors explains. At this point, school officials have said they are reviewing the books to determine whether they fit within the school’s established curriculum. Higgins continues, "Having these books on the shelves would mean that our voices of hope don’t fade when our bus pulls away."

After the Riders donated the books to the library, they moved to a courtyard on campus. As Riders sang hymns, students started to gather and conversations began shortly after. Over the course of an hour, the five Equality Riders spoke to groups of up to forty students, many of whom were actively engaged in the dialogue. (Video of the exchange is available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6z-z_2qfl7s)

Since only five Equality Riders were permitted on campus, students were encouraged to continue the discussion with the Riders at a designated location on University Blvd. "Every Rider has a unique story. Since all of the Liberty students we spoke to seemed genuinely interested in this discussion, we wanted them to be able to hear all of our voices," says Nicholas Rocco DeFinis, a Rider from Lansdale, PA. The dialogue continued until 5:30 PM when Soulforce Q’s permit expired.

An anonymous student thanked the Riders: "Just by being here, you are providing so much comfort to so many students."

More than 200 U.S. colleges and universities have explicit policies that discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students. At Liberty University, gay and lesbian students are subject to reprimands and disciplinary consequences, including ex-gay conversion counseling and expulsion.

Some schools without explicit policies nevertheless foster climates where harassment of LGBT students is prevalent. A 2003 survey of 14 American universities found that more than a third of all LGBT undergraduates had experienced harassment in the past year.

Since 2006, the Equality Ride has visited 50 schools, hosting public forums, participating in panel discussions, and taking part in worship services and Bible studies. The goal is to inspire further conversation and to empower students, faculty, and administrators to make their school welcoming to all students.

The organizers of the Equality Ride use a collaborative approach, writing to college administrators months in advance and inviting them to work together to design programming that examines diverse points of view — including points of view that affirm gay and transgender students.

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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 through relentless nonviolent resistance. For more information, go to www.equalityride.com.

 

 

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