Riders Connect with Columbia International Students, Despite Official Surveillance

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SOULFORCE PRESS RELEASE: October 7, 2008
For Immediate Release

Contact: Caitlin MacIntyre, 
Equality Ride Media Director
Cell: 612-715-6138 Email: caitlin@equalityride.com
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(Columbia, SC)– Yesterday, 17 young adults arriving on the campus of Columbia International University (CIU) were met with police tape and barriers. The young people were members of the Equality Ride, a national bus tour of Christian campuses, which aims to promote dialogue about fairness and safety for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students. CIU administrators cordoned off a small area near the road for Equality Riders to speak with students.

"The sense of limitation, of being told that our voices were only allowed to carry so far, was so much like what lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students face at Columbia International everyday," Enzi Tanner, an Equality Rider from Minneapolis explains. "We wanted to be present for all the students, including those who were too afraid to cross the barrier the university had constructed."

Columbia International University’s official policy is that "homosexual behavior" is sinful. The climate on campus is one of judgment and fear for LGBT students. More than 200 U.S. colleges and universities have explicit policies that discriminate against LGBT students, and a 2003 survey of 14 American universities found that more than a third of all LGBT undergraduates had experienced harassment in the past year.

Administrators and faculty were present at all phases of conversation and presided over the dialogue. Yet despite the official surveillance, approximately 50 students exchanged views and experiences with the Equality Riders.

At 2:00 PM, students and Riders gathered together in a circle to thank each other for the time they were able to share through singing, prayer, and reflection. As the circle broke andRiders began to form small groups with students once again, police cars pulled directly up to the barriers and CIU officials told Riders that they must immediately evacuate the area and move to the road side to await the arrival of their bus.

"It was our intention to continue talking with students in the designated area, since, to our knowledge, time limits had not been placed on our presence," said Katie Higgins of Goose Creek, SC, and co-director of the Equality Ride. "An uncomfortable situation was made worse when we were pushed out to the side of the road while the students were still with us. "

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.

Today the Equality Riders will visit with students at the University of South Carolina in Columbia before moving on to Atlanta, where they will visit Morehouse College and Spelman College. Both Morehouse and Spelman are welcoming the Equality Riders and approaching safety and inclusion for LGBT students as an important part of student life.

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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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