SOULFORCE PRESS RELEASE: April 10, 2006
For Immediate Release
Contact: Richard Lindsay, 646-258-7193
(Provo, UT) — Three Equality Riders and two of their supporters were arrested today after attempting to deliver speeches on discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people at Brigham Young University and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Equality Ride co-director Jacob Reitan and his parents, Randi and Phil Reitan, as well as Equality Riders Diane Bedwell and Rebecca Solomon were arrested in the courtyard of the campus student center and later released without bail after signing a summons. Bedwell and Solomon had attempted to read letters from closeted BYU students in front of a lunchtime crowd of students. The Reitan parents tried to speak about their experiences in raising a gay child. Jacob Reitan began a speech about learning from the history of religion-based discrimination. All were escorted off campus before their public statements could be completed.
"The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints at one time did not allow African American members," Jacob Reitan said after his release. "Through the church’s belief in ‘continuing revelation,’ that shameful practice has ended. It is time for the LDS to realize that their policies against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are also part of an unacceptable history of religious discrimination."
The Riders and their supporters were arrested because of stringent guidelines set down by the university in order to restrict dialogue during the Equality Ride stop. Equality Riders were told they could not hand out literature, set up a display table or hold a formal presentation or speech. It was this last restriction that led to the arrest of the five Riders.
"We will not accept limitations on this dialogue," said Haven Herrin, Equality Ride co-director. "There are countless LGBT Mormons who have committed suicide because of their church’s policies on sexuality and family. We’re here to tell their stories and make sure they didn’t die in vain."
Brigham Young University’s student conduct policy prohibits LGBT students from attending the school. Students who are found to be LGBT face suspension or expulsion. In addition to this policy, the Church of Jesus Christ of Later Day Saints has opposed the equality and dignity of LGBT people, in church and in society, with particular virulence. Gay and lesbian Mormons are often coerced into heterosexual marriages and dangerous and unproven "reparative therapy" to attempt to change their sexual orientation. Despair caused by church policies has led to a high suicide rate among LGBT Mormons.
Equality Riders that stayed within the school’s rigid guidelines carried out successful conversations with hundreds of students. As the Riders sat around tables fielding questions in the student center courtyard during a crowded lunch hour, University administrators and security officers wearing dark suits and earpieces milled around in groups of two or three watching them closely. Single Riders had to answer questions from crowds as large as 25-30 students, carefully regulating their voices so as not to appear to be making a public speech.
"It was truly remarkable," said Equality Rider Jonathan Awtrey, "I don’t think we’ve had crowds like this at any other school where we weren’t openly welcome on campus. Many of the students wanted to know what they could do to make LGBT people feel safe and welcome at their school. Several of them were concerned that their church’s message of love was being diluted by its anti-gay stance."
"It’s clear the students were ready for this discussion," Awtrey added. "I wish the administration had gotten the message."
This evening there will be a rally for the local community at Kiwanis Park, near the BYU campus. Actions will continue at BYU tomorrow starting at 11:30 am. Equality Riders will give a press conference at the corner of Bulldog Boulevard and North Canyon Road on the southwest side of the BYU campus. The Riders will process to the site with Easter lilies in remembrance and hope for LGBT Mormons that have died or are living with the struggle of being gay in a hostile religious environment.
For more information on the Soulforce Equality Ride stop at BYU, see: www.equalityride.com/byu.
The Soulforce Equality Ride is a journey to change the heart and mind of America on the issue of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) equality. Following in the footsteps of the Freedom Rides of the 1960’s, the Equality Ride uses principles of non-violence to confront military and religious colleges and universities with policies banning enrollment of LGBT students. The Equality Riders reflect on the lessons of history, which have shown past religion-based discrimination against women, people of color, and religious minorities to be an unacceptable abuse of the sanctity of religion. At each of the 19 schools on the 51-day bus tour, the young adult ambassadors of the Equality Ride bring this simple message to students, faculty and administrators: Learn from history; end religion-based discrimination.
The goal of Soulforce is freedom for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people from religious and political oppression through the practice of relentless nonviolent resistance.