Equality Riders Denied Entry to Baptist Church in Jackson, TN

National Tour of Christian Colleges Advocates Safety for Gay and Transgender Students

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SOULFORCE PRESS RELEASE: November 12, 2008
For Immediate Release
Contact: Caitlin MacIntyre, Equality Ride Media Director
Cell: 612-715-6138
caitlin@equalityride.com
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(Jackson, TN) — On Tuesday night, members of the Soulforce Q Equality Ride, a youth organized bus tour that travels to faith based colleges with a message of inclusion for gay and transgender students, were barred from entering a public concert at First Baptist Church. The event was a showcase by several Union University choral groups, and Riders planned simply to attend and listen. Upon their arrival, Riders were met by police, Union security, and the pastor of First Baptist Church who told them they were unwelcome and had to get back on the bus. When asked why they could not attend the concert they were told they were unwanted and that the church had the right to prevent them from attending.

"I was shocked that a church would prevent us from coming to a concert, especially when we had been invited by some of the performers. It was painful and disheartening to see that a Christ-centered community would not even allow us to enter its doors," said Nick Savelli, an Equality Rider from Tampa, FL.

After being turned away from the church, Riders decided to stand vigil on the public right of way adjacent to the road. However, as they gathered, Jackson police officers approached them once again, telling them that they would not be allowed to stand there and that if they persisted they could face arrest. Equality Ride co-directors spoke to the officers about their right to assemble on the strip of land that was public. Nevertheless, the officers told them that the church did not want them there and they would be arrested if they did not comply.

"The fact that we were being denied the right to stand on a public property because First Baptist didn’t want us there was a clear breach of our right to assemble. We wanted to stand vigil in front of the church because we had been denied entrance, yet even when we stood out in the cold on the roadside we were turned away and lied to by Jackson police," explained Katie Higgins, Soulforce Q Equality Ride Co-director.

Once more the Riders relocated to a grassy plot next to one of the entrances and were finally told they could remain there. Riders held a candlelight vigil, singing songs and reflecting upon their time in Jackson, TN. "As people went into the concert and as they left, we wanted them to realize that we were absent because the church had closed its doors to us," Nicholas Rocco DeFinis, a Rider from Philadelphia, PA said. Riders stayed on site until everyone attending the event had left.

Today the Riders will leave Jackson and travel to Simmons College of Kentucky in Louisville. The three Riders arrested on Monday were originally sentenced to twenty-four hours of community service in a park adjacent to Union University. However, Union officials said they did not want Equality Riders to remain in Jackson and be near the University for the next three days. So, they asked the judge to rescind the sentence and allow all of the Riders to continue on to their last stop.

"We are pleased that our entire group will be united for our final stop. Still, there are many conversations that need to happen here in Jackson, and we hope to return at some point to contribute to those. Meanwhile, it is our sincere hope that Union University will embody Christ and embrace its lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students," Jarrett Lucas, Co-director of the Ride explained.

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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