Equality Ride Bridges the Gap Between Gays, Christians

Christian Schools Acknowledge the Reality of Sexual Minority Students

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SOULFORCE PRESS RELEASE: April 5, 2007
For Immediate Release
Contact: Brandon Kneefel, West Bus Media Director
Cell: 612-715-6138, brandon@equalityride.com
Brandy Daniels, East Bus Media Director
Cell: 612-715-6284, brandy@equalityride.com
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(Fresno, California) — This week, after almost 4 weeks on the road, 26 young proponents of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender equality visited a small Mennonite Brethren-affiliated college in Fresno, California. While conventional wisdom might predict culture clash, the 2007 Soulforce Equality Riders make it a practice to deny conventional expectations about religion, sexuality, and youth.

"We’re on this journey to begin conversations about what it means to be Christian, what it means to be gay or transgender," says Haven Herrin, Co-director of the 8-week Equality Ride, which will bring a total of 50 young equality advocates on 2 buses to 32 Christian colleges with policies that discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students.

This is the second year of the Equality Ride, which made a debut visit to 18 schools in 2006.

"What’s different this year is that, with all of the national media attention on gay evangelicals and ex-gay therapies, these schools can’t say ‘it doesn’t happen here,’" says Herrin. "It’s harder for them to look away from the suffering created by these policies."

At Fresno Pacific University, administrators collaborated with the Equality Riders on the westbound bus to create a setting for meaningful dialogue. On April 3rd, Equality Riders participated in classroom discussions and gave presentations on topics such as "Progressive Theology" and "In God’s Image: Identity and Scripture." Over meals, Equality Riders talked with concerned faculty who wanted to learn what they could do to make Fresno Pacific a safer learning environment for LGBT students.

The Fresno Pacific student handbook states that "the university is opposed to homosexual, premarital and extramarital sexual relations." But while FPU Director of Communications Diana Bates Mock affirmed that the institution’s views had not changed, she acknowledged that "there is a better appreciation for listening to each other."

Previously, at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California, where an LGBT student group has already been working towards official recognition, Equality Riders found similar opportunities for genuine dialogue. Although the Pepperdine student handbook identifies "homosexual conduct" as grounds for discipline, Equality Riders were invited to lead the prayer at a prayer service in which Riders, students, and faculty joined hands.

The image of hands joined across differences is a stark contrast to the Riders’ experience at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, a school that was also on the 2006 Equality Ride itinerary.

Before the westbound bus arrived in Utah, Equality Riders received a letter from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) asking that they "not enter church property for any purpose." Several westbound Equality Riders were raised in the LDS faith, including Kourt Osborn and Matt Kulisch, a former BYU student.

Ultimately, Osborn and his mother, Karel Allen, were arrested on March 22, when they stepped onto campus to deliver more than 50 pages documenting the isolation, intimidation, and suffering caused by the University’s honor code, which states that "no one known to be guilty of overt and active homosexual conduct is to be enrolled or permitted to remain at Church Educational System (CES) campuses as students…"

"We weren’t even allowed to touch the grass," says Osborn. "It was such a surreal experience."

In spite of BYU’s refusal to participate in an open dialogue about its policy, BYU students took advantage of several off-campus opportunities to meet with Equality Riders and talk about the climate for LGBT students at BYU. On March 21, nearby Utah Valley State College hosted a day of presentations about faith and sexuality, and the Provo Public Library hosted a panel of current and former BYU students. Later, more than 50 BYU students crowded into an informal meeting at a private home to meet with Equality Riders.

"That night, I learned a great deal not only about LDS Doctrine, but also about the possibilities of dissent within the church," says Equality Rider Emily Van Kley.

"I learned that, regardless of BYU’s policies, there is a great hunger among students to talk about sexual orientation and gender identity in their communities, and that these conversations can be had with deep respect for all the people involved."

Future Stops on the West Route

The westbound Equality Riders will continue to challenge the BYU honor code when they travel to BYU-Idaho in Rexburg, Idaho on April 16-17. In the meantime, they will make stops at George Fox University in Newberg, Oregon, Seattle Pacific University in Seattle, Washington, Northwest University in Kirkland, Washington, and Northwest Nazarene University in Nampa, Idaho. Each of these four schools is collaborating with the Equality Ride to create opportunities for education and exchange of ideas.

At BYU Idaho, the Riders will again face the LDS church-issued mandate to stay off of all church property. But, in spite of the official stance, students from BYU-Idaho have already begun contacting Equality Riders to describe the suffering of LGBT students and allies on campus. The stop at BYU-Idaho will likely feature an attempt to deliver these statements, some of which must remain anonymous for fear of disciplinary consequences for students who identify themselves as lesbian or gay.

East Bus Faces Challenges to First Amendment Rights

As they travel through the South, Equality Riders on the eastbound bus have faced efforts by local law enforcement officials to abridge their First Amendment Rights. On Tuesday, March 20, ACLU-Mississippi intervened on the Equality Riders’ behalf when police in Clinton, Mississippi informed the Riders that members of their group would be cited if they "attempt[ed] to gather or travel in a group of four or more" near the campus of Mississippi College.

On March 22, Riders on the eastbound bus were harassed by Clinton police exhorting them to "go on and get out of town" after a day of vigils and civil disobedience. The bus driver was threatened with arrest if the bus did not leave the city of Clinton immediately. Jarrett Lucas and Katie Higgins, Co-directors of the eastbound bus, penned a letter to the Mississippi Attorney General, which can be accessed at www.soulforce.org/article/1214.

When Equality Riders arrived in Williamsburg, Kentucky, home of the University of the Cumberlands, police from throughout Whitley County surrounded the bus and informed the Riders that any attempt to enter onto campus would result in arrest. The riders exited the bus and lined up along the street in order to stand vigil, but were promptly told by police that they were not allowed to stand along the public sidewalk.

The Equality Riders began to walk up and down the sidewalk in front of the campus, singing songs from the civil rights movement. After 15 minutes, the young adults broke up to speak with students waiting on the periphery of campus. At various times, police from different departments warned that no individual could stand stationary on the public sidewalk or that only groups of 3 or more would be arrested for standing stationary. It soon became clear that no individual could stand still along the sidewalk, even to converse with students.

One Equality Rider, Jake Reitan, was arrested for standing still along the sidewalk. Upon witnessing Reitan’s arrest, two students from the University of the Cumberlands decided to stand on the sidewalk. After about 15 minutes the students were arrested and charged with failure to disperse.

Yesterday, April 4, the Equality Riders arrived at Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina — an institution notorious for its long-standing prohibition on interracial dating, which was repealed in 2000. Upon arrival at Bob Jones, Equality Riders were met with groups protesting their visit and message of inclusion for God’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender children. Operation Save America, Truth Ministry, and Americans for Truth were among the anti-gay groups present. Through bullhorns and signs that proclaimed "Sodomy is Sin" and "Three Gay Rights. 1. AIDS. 2. Hell. 3. Salvation," they loudly and forcefully spoke against the acceptance of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.

Three Riders were arrested as they attempted to walk on to campus to deliver artwork and a call for change to the campus. They were cited for trespassing and then released.

Future Stops on the East Route

Next week, the East bus will make stops at Montreat College in Montreat, North Carolina, Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Virginia, and Messiah College in Grantham, Pennsylvania.

On April 23 and 24, the eastbound bus will make an extended visit to Grand Rapids, Michigan, where they will visit Calvin College, a school which has collaborated with the Equality Riders to create intellectually rigorous opportunities to discuss faith and sexuality — even going so far as to integrate the Riders into the school’s ongoing series on sexuality. Ironically, just three miles away, at Cornerstone University, the Equality Riders will not be welcome, although the campus plans a week of programming and a special 12-hour overnight worship service to respond to the Equality Ride visit.

The Equality Ride will conclude on April 26 with a joint visit by both buses to Bethany Lutheran College in Mankato, Minnesota. For a complete itinerary of stops, go to www.soulforce.org/equalityride


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. For more information go to www.soulforce.org or www.equalityride.com.

Equality Riders Inspire Gay Students at Pepperdine University

National Tour of Gay Youth to End Religion-Based Discrimination on Christian Campuses

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SOULFORCE PRESS RELEASE: March 29, 2007
For Immediate Release
Contact: Brandon Kneefel, West Bus Media Director
Cell: 612-715-6138, brandon@equalityride.com
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(Malibu, CA) — The Soulforce Equality Ride spent two days at Pepperdine University sitting in on lectures, leading presentations, sparking dialogue, visiting the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, and reaching out to the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) community at Pepperdine to address discriminatory policies against LGBT people on campus.

The Equality Riders headed to Pepperdine for a welcomed dialogue regarding faith and gays following the arrest of an Equality Rider and his mother at Brigham Young University for attempting to delivery a list of BYU students’ concerns to the administration. Pepperdine has discriminatory doctrines and policies that harm LGBT individuals on campus. The Pepperdine University 2006-07 student handbook states that "homosexual conduct" will result in disciplinary action.

Pepperdine stop organizer Brian Murphy, a Los Angeles area resident, says: "I cannot in good conscience remain silent when there is a school in my own community that silences people solely on the basis of sexual orientation."

This is the fifth stop for the Equality Ride. The Equality Riders are fifty young adults of varying sexual orientations and faith backgrounds on a mission to end religion-based discrimination against LGBT students on Christian campuses. The fifty young adults are dispersed between two buses with two routes, one bus is eastbound and the other is westbound. From Notre Dame University to Brigham Young University, the westbound bus has connected with many student leaders who have honored this conversation despite the avoidance of administration, while the eastbound has endured arriving to campuses with policemen on rooftops, being held in jail for over 24 hours, vandalism of their bus, and hostile policemen, all for attempting peaceful dialogue regarding the wellbeing of LGBT students on these campuses.

"On the west bus, we are fortunate to have had opportunities to begin this dialogue, especially knowing that our brothers and sisters on the east bus and the students they come to help are still working to simply be recognized as beings that are due this conversation," says Haven Herrin, West Bus Co-Director.

"Pepperdine needs to recognize that having tolerance for us [LGBT students] is not the same as having love for us. We are worthy students and deserve an equal place on campus, a place to formally congregate to do good work, to support one another, and to diversify the student body, because when they [the administration] ignore us and deny us formal recognition as a good and functional student group they send a message to the student body that we are not worthy and in someway wrong," Anthony Barnes, freshman at Pepperdine University and member of the unrecognized student organization Malibu GLEE (gays, lesbian and everyone else).

This Thursday, Pepperdine’s administration, including Mark Davis, Vice President of Students, agreed to meet with GLEE to continue this dialogue.

The Equality Riders will continue their mission to end religion-based discrimination against the LGBT community as they visit Brigham Young University, Idaho in mid-April. The next stop on the Ride will be Fresno Pacific University, where Equality Riders will engage in a welcomed dialogue regarding FPU’s discriminatory policies.


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. For more information go to www.soulforce.org or www.equalityride.com.

Mormon Equality Rider and Mother Arrested at BYU; National Tour of Young Adults Out to Reconcile Gays and the Church

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SOULFORCE PRESS RELEASE: March 22, 2007
For Immediate Release
Contact: Brandon Kneefel, West Bus Media Director
Cell: 612-715-6138, brandon@equalityride.com
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(Salt Lake City, UT) — Mormon Equality Rider Kourt Osborn, and his mother, Karel Allen, were arrested in an attempt to deliver a list of concerns to the administration regarding BYU’s discriminatory policies against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students. The list was presented with a white lily symbolizing the LDS youth who have committed suicide because they could not reconcile their LDS faith and sexual orientation. Concurrently, Equality Riders and community members walked for 6 hours on BYU’s perimeter to reenact the "Walls of Jericho" march, symbolizing the walls of oppression at BYU. Current and former BYU students, gay and straight, submitted over fifty pages of concerns for the well-being of LGBT students at BYU.

This is the fourth stop for the Equality Ride, a national tour of 50 young adults visiting schools that discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students. The Equality Riders are gay, straight, and transgender, Christian and non-Christian, and their group includes 4 LDS Riders.

The BYU Student Honor Code states that "no one known to be guilty of overt and active homosexual conduct is to be enrolled or permitted to remain at Church Educational System (CES) campuses as students…"

Brian Carl, a current BYU student and straight ally, says "the homophobic atmosphere at BYU makes it possible for students to verbally attack SSA [same-sex attracted] individuals."

The Equality Riders spent Wednesday afternoon at UVSC leading presentations about sexual orientation and faith to many community members, including LDS youth, and spent Wednesday evening with fifty BYU students discussing the reconciliation of the Church and LGBT individuals. "What can we do for the LGBT community?" one BYU student said during the open dialogue.

Melissa Pomeroy, a sophomore at BYU, shared her concern: "I feel like I’m all alone at BYU. There is no way for me to meet others like me, even just to talk, because everyone is so afraid of coming out."

Last week, while the Soulforce Equality Riders were in Colorado, they received a letter from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints asking that Equality Riders "not enter church property for any purpose."

"After months of attempted dialogue, it is clear that the administration at BYU does not respect this conversation and wishes to silence the issue and their students. We return because at this very moment, there are many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students suffering alone on campus, many of whom have reached out to us," says Matt Kulisch, BYU stop coordinator and former BYU student.

"We remain hopeful that the student leaders will continue this dialogue beyond our [Equality Riders’] visit and that the administration will come to see the value in this discussion," Kulisch adds.

The Equality Riders will continue their mission to end religion-based discrimination against the LGBT community as they visit Brigham Young University, Idaho in mid-April. The next stop on the Ride will be Pepperdine University in Malibu, where Equality Riders will engage in a welcomed dialogue regarding Pepperdine’s discriminatory policies.


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. For more information go to www.soulforce.org or www.equalityride.com.

National Tour of Christian Colleges Faces Resistance at Mississippi College, BYU

Echoes of the Past as Mississippi Town Attempts to Restrict Constitutional Rights; ACLU Intervenes

Mormons Bar Equality Riders on All Church Property

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SOULFORCE PRESS RELEASE: March 21, 2007
For Immediate Release
Contact: Brandon Kneefel, West Bus Media Director
Cell: 612-715-6138, brandon@equalityride.com
Kyle DeVries, East Bus Media Director
Cell: 612-715-6284, kyle@equalityride.com
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(Provo, UT and Clinton, MI) — Two weeks ago, 50 young men and women boarded two buses and set out on a remarkable journey. Their mission: to initiate conversations about faith and sexuality at 32 Christian colleges with policies that silence or exclude lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students. This week, the Riders face their toughest challenges yet as the westbound bus travels to Brigham Young University (BYU) in Utah and the eastbound bus travels to Mississippi College in Mississippi.

Thus far, the Riders have shared moments of reconciliation, prayer, and connection with conservative Christian students at colleges on two separate routes across the nation, but they have also faced harassment and intimidation. Their bus was defaced with anti-gay slurs in Sioux Center, Iowa and they were met by armed police on the rooftops at Central Bible College in Missouri.

Currently, 5 Equality Riders and 1 Baylor University student are being held in the McClennan County Jail in Waco, Texas. The Riders were arrested Tuesday on criminal trespassing charges after they wrote messages affirming LGBT students in chalk on Baylor sidewalks. The Riders’ bail has been set at $2,000 each, which is equivalent to the maximum fine under Texas law.

Riders are also facing organized, official resistance as they prepare to visit BYU, where Mormon Riders have been banned from their own church, and Clinton, Miss., where police officials attempted to abridge the Riders’ constitutional rights.

Clinton, Mississippi: Echoes of Past Civil Rights Struggles
Police Officials Attempt to Deny the Right to Assemble

On Tuesday, police officials in Clinton, Miss., informed the eastbound Equality Riders that members of their group would be cited if they "attempt to gather or travel in a group of four or more" near the campus of Mississippi College.

In an addendum to an assembly permit, Lt. Thomas R. Ruffin acknowledged that the department’s actions "could be construed as conflicting with constitutional allowances," but suggested that the young people’s presence in the city presented "valid public safety concerns."

Equality Riders immediately contacted the ACLU of Mississippi, who intervened on the group’s behalf. In a letter to Ruffin, ACLU-Mississippi Staff Attorney John Williams cited Supreme Court precedents establishing prior restraints on the right to assemble as "the most serious and least tolerable infringement on First Amendment Rights."

Williams continued, "it is unconstitutional and unlawful for your office to deny citizens the right to peacefully assemble on public property without the above mentioned safeguards and restraints. From a legal standpoint your licensing requirement is wrought with constitutional violations and restrictions on First Amendment grounds."

Clinton police officials immediately withdrew the unconstitutional restrictions.

Mississippi College Administrator Likens Equality Ride Visit to 9/11

Officials at Mississippi College, the second oldest Baptist college in the nation, have made it clear that the Equality Riders’ loving perspective on LGBT students is not welcome on campus.

In negotiations prior to the visit, one administrator likened the Riders to terrorists, vowing that the campus would deal with the Equality Riders "just like America dealt with 9/11."

In reality, the Soulforce Equality Ride is rooted in a philosophy of non-violent social change as reflected in the teachings of Ghandi and Martin Luther King, Jr.

On Thursday, March 22, the Riders plan a peaceful vigil on a public sidewalk adjacent to the campus at 10 am. During the vigil, Equality Riders will make themselves available to students who are interested in speaking with them. The vigil will take place on College Street, between Capitol and Jefferson.

"While fear plays a strong role on this campus and in this town, the truth of our message is stronger: God loves all of His children, regardless of their sexual orientation," says Stephen Krebs, one of the organizers of the Equality Ride visit to Mississippi College.

Brigham Young University: Mormon Equality Riders Barred From all Church Property

Last week, Soulforce Equality Riders on the westbound bus received a letter from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints asking that Equality Riders "not enter church property for any purpose." The Riders had planned to volunteer at the church-affiliated Welfare Square Cannery and to visit Temple Square to learn more about the LDS faith in preparation for a stop at Brigham Young University on Thursday, March 22.

The BYU Student Honor Code states that "no one known to be guilty of overt and active homosexual conduct is to be enrolled or permitted to remain at Church Educational System (CES) campuses as students." It also identifies "advocacy of a homosexual lifestyle (whether implied or explicit) or any behaviors that indicate homosexual conduct, including those not sexual in nature," as violations of the Honor Code.

The Equality Riders’ goal at is to expose the suffering that this policy creates and to provide resources for hope and reconciliation.

"Many LGBT students in our community suffer in silence," says Kourt Osborn, one of the organizers of the BYU stop. "They feel lonely, without friends or avenues for support. They feel threatened by BYU or by their own feelings inside, without affirming and correct information to give them a sense of identity."

Tomorrow, Equality Riders and Provo community members will begin a six-hour "Walls of Jericho" walk around the outskirts campus in order to draw attention to the issues that LGBT students face at BYU.

During the march, Riders will hold a press conference for community members, students, and former students to present grievances, letters, and concerns to the BYU community. This List of Concerns represents contributions directly from the BYU community to the school administration. The press conference will be held at the corner of Bulldog and North Canyon at 11 a.m.

Immediately after the press conference, Riders, community members, and BYU students will attempt to deliver the List of Concerns to Vice President Jan Scharman. The Equality Riders have already received an official notice of trespassing and proclamation of arrest if they enter Church or University property.

Looking Back: Moments of Reconciliation and Witness

In spite of the resistance that the Ride has encountered, the Riders have also participated in moments of genuine dialogue and reconciliation. At Wisconsin Lutheran, Riders were not allowed on campus, but the did manage an off-campus meeting with administrators and select students.

"Many of the students bowed their heads, cried, and shifted uncomfortably as the school officials repeatedly condemned us. One brave young woman stepped forward and joined our closing prayer, despite the school officials’ outright refusal to do so," said Alexey Bulokhov, Co-director of the Ride.

At Oklahoma Baptist University, the Equality Riders walked on to campus with a banner filled with Bible verses and affirmations of LGBT students. When the Riders were arrested, 2 OBU students, who asked to remain anonymous, picked up the banner and brought it the rest of the way to the Student Center.

"We just wanted to finish what they started," said one of the participating students. "People should know that what they’re doing isn’t wrong, that our lives aren’t wrong."

Looking Ahead

The Soulforce Equality Riders will continue their journey through April 26. A complete list of stops is available online at the links below.

 


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. For more information go to www.soulforce.org or www.equalityride.com.

"Barred From the Churches of Our Birth"; Mormons Ban Equality Riders on All Church Property

Sexual Minority Mormon Youth Disenfranchised

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SOULFORCE PRESS RELEASE: March 17, 2007
For Immediate Release
Contact: Brandon Kneefel, West Bus Media Director
Cell: 612-715-6138, brandon@equalityride.com
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(Salt Lake City, UT) — Late Thursday night Soulforce Equality Riders received a letter from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints asking that Equality Riders "not enter church property for any purpose."

The Equality Riders are 50 gay and straight young adults on a nationwide mission to dialogue about discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students at Christian colleges.

They had planned to volunteer at the church-affiliated Welfare Square Cannery and to visit Temple Square on Tuesday, March 20 to learn more about the LDS faith in preparation for a visit to Brigham Young University on Thursday, March 22.

"We are being told, beyond being barred from our schools, that we are barred from the very churches of our birth," said Matt Kulisch, a former BYU student and one of the organizers of the Equality Ride visit to BYU.

"Our families still go there to worship and find community. Our friends still go there to find identity and learn about morality and the experience of the divine. Now, we are no longer invited to join them." Kulisch is one of four 2007 Equality Riders with LDS roots.

Thursday’s letter, which was signed by Brent W. Roberts, Director of Headquarters Facilities, suggests that church property is not an appropriate space for "advocacy tactics that violate the law." Instead, Roberts directed the Equality Riders to "the wide public sidewalks that exist throughout Salt Lake City."

But the Equality Riders assert that their visit to Temple Square was not for dialogue or demonstration on issues that affect their plans for BYU.

"We had hoped to educate ourselves further about Mormon belief and culture at the center of the religious community. We hoped to come as tourists, like the thousands of others that come to this sacred site annually. We planned on showing Temple Square the same reverence we would any other place of worship. In short, we just wanted to visit," said Alexey Bulokhov, one of the West route co-directors.

"This letter represents a fundamental misunderstanding and misrepresentation of our purpose in coming to Salt Lake City. It was educational. Once again, BYU leadership passed on an opportunity for dialogue and discussion where the true intention of our visit could have been more fully explored," said Kulisch.

While their visit to LDS sacred sites was intended to be purely for the Riders’ educational benefit, the Equality Ride’s plans for BYU-Provo are different. The primary goal of the Soulforce Equality Ride visit to the BYU community is to end the suffering of LGBT youth, using dialogue and discussion to increase understanding about their experiences on campus.

On Wednesday, March 21, the Gay-Straight Alliance at Utah Valley State College — also in the Provo area — will host presentations from the Equality Riders in their Grand Ballroom on campus. Equality Riders hope to use these presentations as an opportunity to discuss the issues gay and lesbian students might face on BYU’s campus. The presentations are open to BYU and UVSC students from 10AM to 3PM.

On Thursday, March 22nd, Equality Riders and Provo community members will begin a six-hour "Walls of Jericho" march around the outskirts of the Brigham Young campus. During the march, Riders will hold a press conference for community members, students, and former students to present grievances, letters, and concerns to the BYU community. This List of Concerns represents contributions directly from the BYU community to the school administration. The press conference will be held at the corner of Bulldog and North Canyon at 11 a.m.

The BYU Student Honor Code states that "Advocacy of a homosexual lifestyle (whether implied or explicit) or any behaviors that indicate homosexual conduct, including those not sexual in nature, are inappropriate and violate the Honor Code."

Thursday’s events will end with a community rally. The rally will be held at Kiwanis Park at 5pm.


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. For more information go to www.soulforce.org or www.equalityride.com.

Soulforce Q Launches Nationwide Journey to Christian Colleges to Talk About LGBT People and Faith

Second Annual Soulforce Equality Ride Departs Today

Notre Dame – Pepperdine – BYU Among Stops

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SOULFORCE PRESS RELEASE: March 7, 2007
For Immediate Release
Contact: Brandon Kneefel, West Bus Media Director
Cell: 612-715-6138, brandon@equalityride.com
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(Minneapolis, MN) — Today 50 lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and straight young adults from diverse faiths will begin a mission to dialogue with tomorrow’s conservative leaders at Christian colleges across the nation.

Christian colleges are the fastest growing segment of higher education. At more than 200 Christian colleges in the United States, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students are silenced, forced out of school, or referred to harmful "ex-gay" therapies.

At 32 schools on 2 separate bus routes, the 2007 Equality Riders are determined to open a conversation about the devastating impacts of anti-gay policies. While some schools will welcome the Ride and the opportunity for dialogue, others have announced that they will arrest the Riders for trespassing. The threat of arrest will not deter these dedicated young people, who are determined to sharing their life-saving message about the inherent dignity and worth of every individual.

The Westbound bus will start off heading south to the University of Notre Dame, rated by students in a Princeton Review survey as the least hospitable school for gay and lesbian students. The administration at Notre Dame does not welcome the Ride, and arrest is a possibility for Riders, students, and community members who partake in direct action. However, the Riders are committed to meeting all campuses with peace and understanding, and many campuses will work to do the same: for example, Pepperdine University has invited the Riders to attend the Tolerance Museum with Pepperdine students. The Westbound bus will also make a return visit to Brigham Young University in Utah and make a debut visit to the BYU Idaho campus. The Equality Riders have been barred from both campuses and will be met by police upon arrival.

For a complete West bus itinerary, go to www.soulforce.org/article/901

The East bound bus will also start off heading south, traveling down to Baylor University, a Southern Baptist University in Waco, Texas. The Equality Ride will then travel east, stopping at such schools as Mississippi College, where students have been warned not to talk with Equality Riders and repeated attempts to communicate with administration have been rejected. Once on the East coast, the bus will turn north, visiting Bob Jones University, where interracial dating was still prohibited until 2000. The bus will continue north into Massachusetts where, despite the state’s pro-equality policies, Gordon College still has anti-gay policies on the books.

For a complete East bus itinerary, go to www.soulforce.org/article/789

Both buses return westward to reunite in Minneapolis for a final visit to Bethany Lutheran College.

"We come in pursuit of greater understanding," says Haven Herrin, Co-director of Soulforce Q, the young adult division of the national LGBT social justice group Soulforce. "Our goal is to foster a conversation about LGBT people and faith. While such conversations are often marked by politics and divisiveness, we bring open minds and hearts to academic settings, where we hope for a genuine exchange of ideas."

Herrin sees the diversity of this year’s cohort as another indicator of the project’s growth. "We come from a variety of experiences, a variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds. There are 5 straight allies on this year’s ride. There are 4 riders who identify as transgender. There are Buddhists, Jews, Catholics, and evangelical Christians. We’re all here to have a conversation with America’s next conservative religious generation about our personal lives and our personal relationships to the scriptures that the schools use to condemn us."

Eight of the 2007 riders are current or former students from schools on the 2006 ride, including Vince Cervantes and Vince Pancucci, a young couple who experienced Equality Ride 2006 as students at Azusa Pacific University. This evangelical Christian school welcomed the riders and hosted a public forum; more than 1,200 Azusa students listened, cried, and prayed for healing as Equality Riders shared their experiences of anti-gay violence. Inspired by that event, Cervantes and Pancucci have come out to the campus and become activists in their communities.

More than 200 U.S. colleges and universities have explicit policies that discriminate against LGBT students. In 2006, the inaugural Equality Ride traveled to 19 of those schools and held vigils, Bible studies, class discussions, and community forums. This year the Ride’s reach has nearly doubled.


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. For more information go to www.soulforce.org or www.equalityride.com.

A Mission of Understanding: Young Gay Leaders on a Mission to Christian Colleges

Second Annual Soulforce Equality Ride Highlights Experiences of LGBT Students

Notre Dame – Pepperdine – BYU Among Stops

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SOULFORCE PRESS RELEASE: February 21, 2007
For Immediate Release
Contact: Haven Herrin, West Bus Co-director
Cell: 469-867-5725, haven@soulforce.org
Katie Higgins, East Bus Co-director
Cell: 843-259-8876, katie@soulforce.org
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(Minneapolis, MN) — On March 8, 2007, fifty young adults will board 2 buses for the trip of a lifetime. The 8-week Soulforce Equality Ride will bring them to 32 Christian colleges with climates or policies that silence lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students.

Their mission: to open a dialogue about the painful consequences of discrimination and the religion-based prejudice that sustains it.

"We come in pursuit of greater understanding," says Haven Herrin, Co-director of Soulforce Q, a youth-led movement within the national LGBT social justice group Soulforce. "Our goal is to foster a conversation about LGBT people and faith. While such conversations are often marked by politics and divisiveness, we bring open minds and hearts to academic settings, where we hope for a genuine exchange of ideas."

More than 200 U.S. colleges and universities have explicit policies that discriminate against LGBT students. In 2006, the inaugural Equality Ride traveled to 19 of those schools and held vigils, Bible studies, class discussions, and community forums. This year the Ride’s reach has nearly doubled. Equality Riders will bring their mix of education and advocacy to 2 separate routes that stop at 32 schools, including the University of Notre Dame, Pepperdine University, and Baylor University.

Herrin sees the diversity of this year’s cohort as another indicator of the project’s growth. "We come from a variety of experiences, a variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds. There are 5 straight allies on this year’s ride. There are 4 riders who identify as transgender. There are Buddhists, Jews, Catholics, and evangelical Christians. We’re all here to have a conversation with America’s next conservative religious generation about our personal lives and our personal relationships to the scriptures that the schools use to condemn us."

Eight of the 2007 riders are current or former students from schools on the 2006 ride, including Vince Cervantes and Vince Pancucci, a young couple who experienced Equality Ride 2006 as students at Azusa Pacific University. This evangelical Christian school welcomed the riders and hosted a public forum; more than 1,200 Azusa students listened, cried, and prayed for healing as Equality Riders shared their experiences of anti-gay violence. Inspired by that event, Cervantes and Pancucci have come out to the campus and become activists in their communities.

Says Cervantes, "I’ve had first-hand experience stepping up in a ‘faith-based’ community to authentically and vulnerably share all parts of my life. I aspire to open eyes, broaden views, and get people talking by sharing my story at the institutions we will visit on the Equality Ride."

Other highlights of the 2006 Equality Ride

  • When the Equality Ride was defaced by anti-gay graffiti, students from Lee University in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains joined the Equality Riders in washing the bus and restoring its original message: "Learn from history. End Religion-based discrimination."
  • After Regent University in Virginia barred the Riders from entering the campus, several Regent students approached the bus, some of them kneeling and taking the hands of Equality Riders in gestures of humility, and offered "an apology on behalf of Christians who have mistreated the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community."
  • At Brigham Young University (BYU) in Utah, where Equality Riders were barred from making formal presentations or speeches, 9 current and former BYU students joined the Equality Riders in a "die-in" to represent the hundreds of LGBT young people who have ended their lives due to the Mormon church’s teachings on homosexuality. Twenty-four young leaders were arrested for trespassing on school grounds.

BYU junior Matt Kulisch, a member of the Latter Day Saints and one of the students who participated in the action, cited his faith as part of his motivation for being arrested with the Equality Riders. "My church has always taught me the principle of standing for something true. My integrity demanded that this message of God’s love for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people be told in its entirety."

What to watch for in 2007

This year the Equality Ride west bus will return to BYU with Kulisch and two other former BYU students on board. The 2007 Riders plan even more outreach to the community and a six-hour march around the walls of the Provo campus, where, according to the honor code, "No one known to be guilty of overt and active homosexual conduct is to be enrolled or permitted to remain…." Campus officials have made it clear that Riders will not be allowed to enter campus as a group or as individuals.

The west bus will begin its route at Notre Dame, where AllianceND, an LGBT student group, has been denied official status as a student organization for the past 2 years. Official student organizations may not be in conflict with the teachings of the Catholic church, which holds that homosexual orientation is "a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil." Although Notre Dame has established a Standing Committee to examine the climate for LGBT students, the university is currently indicating they will not welcome the Equality Ride visit on March 8 and 9.

In contrast, Calvin College, identified by a Princeton Review survey as one of the least hospitable schools for LGBT students, has invited the Equality Riders for dialogue and shared worship services. Pepperdine University in Malibu is also welcoming the Ride and collaborating on two full days of public forums and conversation.

The riders on the eastbound bus expect a different kind of experience at Bob Jones University, which has in recent years warned openly gay alumni that they will be arrested for trespassing if they attempt to return to campus. The South Carolina school turned to the Bible to keep African American students off campus until 1970 and to keep interracial dating a punishable offense until 2000. Led by east bus Co-Directors Katie Higgins and Jarrett Lucas, and by Mandy Matthias, a rider with close ties to Bob Jones University, the Riders plan to enter campus to engage students in conversations. They will also visit a non-profit art museum on campus that, by law, must be open to the public. It is not yet clear how administrators will respond.

"We are called to the places that cry out for justice and compassion," says Herrin. "Where is it the darkest? We will go there."


The 2007 Equality Ride is a project of Soulforce, a national civil rights and social justice organization. Our vision is freedom for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people from religious and political oppression through the practice of relentless nonviolent resistance. For more information go to www.soulforce.org or www.equalityride.com.