National Tour of Christian Colleges Advocates Safety for Gay and Transgender Students
SOULFORCE PRESS RELEASE: October 28, 2008
For Immediate Release
Contact: Caitlin MacIntyre, Equality Ride Media Director
(Dallas, TX) — This week, the Soulforce Equality Ride brought unprecedented conversations about faith and fairness to two Baptist institutions: Dallas Baptist University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. The quality of dialogue and exchange at each school demonstrates the diverse and changing nature of contemporary evangelical cultures.
The Equality Ride is a national bus tour to Christian colleges. The 18 to 26-year-old Equality Riders advocate safe educational settings for all students, including those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender.
On Friday, October 24, the Soulforce Q Equality Riders arrived at Dallas Baptist University (DBU) as guests for a day of dialogue and discussion about faith and fairness. During a press conference preceding scheduled events, Dr. J. Blair Blackburn, Executive Vice President of DBU, said that although "DBU’s established beliefs may not coincide with the viewpoints of Soulforce on these issues, we understand anyone’s right to disagree and their desire for an opportunity to discuss." Katie Higgins, Equality Ride Co-director, explained the necessity of such conversations to ensure safety and fairness for all students.
Riders joined DBU faculty and administration for lunch and conversation before presentations to student leadership on campus.
"The students had such great ideas about how to get involved and be advocates for their gay and transgender peers. I hope that some of them will take those ideas and begin to form a support system for LGBT students on campus," said Equality Rider Alex Lundy.
Dialogue with student leaders continued as Riders were able to sit down with them and discuss their ideas and perceptions about faith, sexuality, and gender. Riders briefly shared their stories and then discussed what safe spaces look like for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and how students can facilitate these environments.
In a debriefing session with Equality Riders and DBU administrators, Riders explained their concerns about the DBU policy and discussed ways the campus could be safer. Administration shared their personal experiences and told Riders that the dialogue would continue.
"I think that the administration is genuinely interested in ensuring that gay and transgender students feel safe and fully accepted as members of the DBU community. Hopefully we can work with them in establishing fair and inclusive policies, which will help create a more welcoming campus climate," said Ride Co-director Jarrett Lucas.
In contrast, on Monday October 27th, Equality Riders traveled to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS) for a limited and formal exchange of ideas.
Riders went onto campus at 2:00 PM for a meeting attended by a cross-section of individuals selected by the university, which included students, faculty, staff, and two of the university’s vice presidents. Soulforce Q Equality Riders showed a brief video from the SWBTS website in which President Paige Patterson apologizes to an African American alumnus for the oppression he faced as a student in 1943 when Southwestern was still racially segregated.
Following this video, Equality Riders shared two letters from gay SWBTS alumni detailing their experiences and the pain of being unable to live authentically on a campus that punishes gay and lesbian students. One writer revealed that "stress and suicidal thoughts forced [him] to drop out." In conclusion, the Riders reflected on the lack of condemnation from Jesus regarding gay and transgender people.
Equality Rider Danielle Cooper of Newark, New Jersey explains, "We had twenty five minutes and during that time we wanted the representatives from Southwestern Baptist to see our humanity. We wanted them to understand the pain and oppression lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people face as a result of beliefs that Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary holds. How long will we have to wait until President Patterson recognizes that the convention is wrong on the issue of gay and transgender individuals as well?"
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary began by introducing a community member who was not officially affiliated with Southwestern but was a "friend" of SWBTS. He told those present that he was once a gay man but was no longer considered himself a part of the community. He shared his belief that "Jesus Christ doesn’t speak tolerance. It’s a very narrow-minded Word." Following this personal story, a faculty member in the Ethics department rehearsed the Biblical passages that are often used to condemn gay and lesbian people.
Afterwards Riders and community supporters stood in silent vigil outside of the University for two hours. Some Equality Riders stood silently in a "glass closet" constructed as a visual reminder of LGBT students who are present on campus but unable to be heard. Zak Rittenhouse, one of the Riders who stood vigil within the "glass closet" reflected on his own experience: "While in the glass closet, I was reminded once again of what it was like to be silenced and to live in fear."
Riders remained in vigil until 5:30 PM along W. Seminary Drive to offer a visible symbol of hope to LGBT students as well as to demonstrate to the SWBTS community at large the pain of being gay or transgender on the campus.
Katie Higgins, Equality Ride co-director explains that, "Although the situations at Dallas Baptist University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary were quite different, both were certainly important first steps in creating a dialogue about faith and fairness on these campuses. I hope that the schools will continue to challenge their perceptions and work towards becoming safer learning environments for all students."
The Equality Ride bus is on the road through November 13, 2008. Future stops include:
Oct. 29 Southwestern Assemblies of God University Waxahachie, TX
Nov. 5 Ouachita Baptist University Arkadelphia, AR
Nov. 7 Central Baptist College Conway, AR
Nov. 10-11 Union University Jackson, TN
Nov. 13 Simmons College of Kentucky Louisville, KY
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.org.