by Angel Collie
I just wanted to say thanks again for all of your support! This ride wouldn’t be possible without you. The group gathered in Washington DC on Saturday, March 4 to begin training– what a beautiful city to spend the week in.
The first few days were spent with the Jake, Haven, and the group. We did icebreakers, a diversity training, and worked on our presentations. I am on the Bible team and have a small part in the Drama team skit. We only had one day to get ready to present to Rev. White and Lawson.
Rev. Mel White and Rev. Phil Lawson joined us as we had our trainings on non-violence as well as the history of homophobia in the church. The non-violence training was particularly hard. Rev. White began by singling out the one person in the group who would probably face the most adversity, which of course was me with my transgender identity and tattoos.
It was somewhat hard to take, but I understood he was only doing it to prepare us all. We then had to get into two lines facing each other. We took turns yelling whatever profanities we could think at each other and attacking vulnerabilities. I must say it was difficult to look into the faces of people I have grown to love and yell such mean things. It was a very emotional time for everyone in the room, and many were brought to tears through the exercise.
We were also taught how to be a support for our friends in these situations, as well as what to do in case of attacks or violence towards us. We also presented our Bible team presentation: Coming out with God. They loved it and made only one suggestion: We should stick to our personal stories because many students will already know the passages. It was a huge relief and really lifted the spirit of our team.
The second day, we met with the leaders of the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities, an organization that represents 15 of the schools we will be visiting. They were totally supportive and have been working with, even offering advice and suggestions for different schools.
After our trainings we all had a meeting with Congressman and Freedom Rider John Lewis. It was amazing to hear him as he spoke of his days as a Freedom Rider and how he nearly got beaten to death for what he believed in. He wished us luck, and commended us. He told us to go out there, get in trouble, and make change! We all got a picture with him.
The next morning we would finally get to see the bus! It was really amazing and said "Learn from History – End Spiritual Violence." We all boarded it for the first time and headed off to our press conference outside of CCCU.
Soon after, we were on our way to our first stop: Liberty University. Lynchburg is the home base of Soulforce and Mel White, the founder; therefore, there was a large group of supportive people. First Christian Church welcomed us and hosted our sending off. It was a very powerful service and ended with all of the riders circled around the church holding candles and singing We Shall Overcome. The church was lined with photos of those whose lives had been taken because of the same injustice we are fighting against. I was particularly touched by Brandon Teena’s photo sitting on the altar. At the end of the service I asked Jonathan to pray with me and others joined us. It felt so good to be on the altar and feel worthy again.
Afterwards we had a wonderful Chinese dinner because that was the meal the Freedom Riders had before they began. The awesome band Someone’s Sister played for us as we ate. Katie and I even danced a bit. They also had all of us lunch boxes full of candy with smiley-face hats. It was really nice.
We headed back to the hotel to get ready for our visit to Liberty the next day. I was nervous but excited none the less. I couldn’t sleep much that night. I decided to begin fasting when I got up the next morning. We began back at the church for a mini-training and overview of what was going to happen that day at Liberty. Jerry Falwell announced that as soon as we walked onto campus we would be arrested and as soon as we drove up cops and media were everywhere. They rushed the bus as we all walked out one-by-one.
We proceeded to march up, being led by Jake and Haven as Someone Sister played and sang. Supporters and students were already there to offer their support or opinions. As we stood outside their gates many drove by yelling "faggots."
I have to admit it was not until I stepped off the bus that the reality that I was going to jail set in. I knew once I took that step onto campus I would not have the freedoms I have always enjoyed. I must admit being trans added another scary element to it. I just was unsure how they would perceive me and treat me. Jacob began giving our speech and was arrested. One-by-one we finished the speech.
Waiting was unnerving; I tried hard to just focus on my faith in God and where my part in the speech would pick up. Standing up and reading as I watched my friends taken away gave me an unexplainable feeling of purpose. I felt a power and a grace come over me– the kind you get when you know you are fulfilling the Lord’s purpose in your life.
I kept repeating Micah 6:8 to myself and let it be my leader. I knew I had to love mercy and walk humbly as I did what I felt called to do for justice in our world. As I stepped up and began reading, I was bluntly cut off and placed under arrest. They handcuffed me behind my back with black plastic cuffs. I was walked to the back of the line while those who went before me were processed and had their mug shots taken. I had to give them my ID which was a scary moment for me. I have the gender marked off, because I don’t embrace an inaccurate binary gender system. They assumed "male" and treated me that way throughout the process. I had originally planned to go with my past; however, it felt fake and I really had a strong sense of needing to be authentic no matter what that meant.
They placed us in a transport van. I was placed alone in a cage-like box to separate me from the females. We were all taken to the Magistrate and met with him. We were all charged with trespassing and have an upcoming court date to be taken care of by Soulforce.
Outside the jail, we were welcomed by the group cheering for us, greeting us with hugs and questions. I was able to keep the cuffs, which I found exciting! Others got out in waves and we got to cheer and support them. Jake’s Mom had cookies and milk for all of us. We all got a bit sunburned waiting. Once everyone was released we all went back to the hotel for recuperation and dinner.
The next day was set aside for presentation work and laundry. The group went bowling both Friday and Saturday night in different groups. It was an amazing opportunity for outreach, because both nights we met young gay people living lives of fear and oppression. These students were waiting for someone to tell them they are not unworthy and that God loves them just the way they are.
On Sunday, the group broke up to attend different church services. A Part of the group attended Church at the open and embracing First Christian, while the rest of us attended Thomas Road Baptist Church led by Rev. Jerry Falwell. Many of us saw familiar faces in our arresting officers who where there to protect us. To everyone’s surprise, Falwell did not acknowledge our presence or preach on the subject of homosexuality explicitly. After church, we boarded the bus and headed to our next stop at Pat Robertson’s Regent University in Virginia Beach.