Equality Riders Face Trial in Waxahachie, Tx

LGBT Activists Refuse to Apologize for Challenging Discriminatory Practices of Southwestern Assemblies of God University

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SOULFORCE PRESS RELEASE: April 8, 2009
For Immediate Release
Contact: Katie Higgins, Director of Operations
Cell: (843) 259-8876 Email: katie@soulforce.org
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(Waxahachie, Tx) — On Wednesday, April 8, three young adults will face trail on trespassing charges from Southwestern Assemblies of God University (SAGU).  The young men were part of the Equality Ride, a national bus tour that promotes safety and inclusion for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students on faith-based campuses across the country.

Members of the Equality Ride, 16 in all, arrived at SAGU on October 29, 2008, in the hopes of attending a chapel service to initiate dialogue on faith and equality for LGBT students.  Upon their arrival, the Riders were stopped by security and escorted to an empty parking lot at the entrance of the campus, where they were given an official warning not to enter SAGU by a university spokesperson.  Insisting on joining students at the chapel, three Riders, all of whom identify as Christian, ignored the warning and attempted to enter campus.  Police on the scene promptly arrested Manny Lampon, 22, of New York, NY; Zak Rittenhouse, 21, of Lynchburg, VA; and Nicholas Rocco De Finis, 22, of Philadelphia, PA.

After the arrest, the remaining Riders stood in silent vigil on the perimeter of campus until Scott Camp, Dean of Students at SAGU, greeted them along with other student leaders and some university staff.  Camp expressed sympathy for the Riders feelings of exclusion, yet remained staunchly behind the universities decision to keep them off campus, repeatedly saying, “This is where we’re at.” As Camp engaged members of the Equality Ride on the periphery of campus, members of the SAGU community stood watching on the other side.

“In a very real sense, we were divided and distant from Southwestern delegates,” said Jarrett Lucas, Co-Director of the Equality Ride. “Administrators had decided that property and policy were more important than people. And to enforce that judgment, they called upon the local police.”

SAGU officials agreed to drop the charges on the condition that Soulforce Q, the organization that put together the Equality Ride, and the defendants, agree never to come back to the university uninvited and apologize for their actions.  Both Soulforce Q and the defendants have refused to apologize.   

“I didn’t join the Equality Ride to be arrested,” noted Lampon.  “I joined to shine light on the injustice that many LGBT students face on campuses like SAGU.”

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.

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Equality Ride Bus Rolls to a Stop, But Change Keeps Coming

Third Annual Tour of Christian Colleges Empowers LGBT Students
$25,000 Still Needed

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SOULFORCE MEDIA ADVISORY: November 20, 2008
For Immediate Release

Contact: Paige Schilt, 
Media Director
Cell: 512-659-1771
paige@soulforce.org

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(Laurel, MD) The third annual Soulforce Q Equality Ride is coming to a close this week with a de-briefing in Laurel, Maryland. For the past six weeks, these extraordinary lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT), and straight young adults have brought their message of inclusion and safety to 15 faith-based schools throughout the South.

Although the bus tour has ended, the work of fostering safe learning environments for LGBT students is just beginning. Students and faculty, empowered by the Equality Ride, will now take on the work of organizing gay/straight alliances and safe spaces for LGBT students. Some will advocate for the re-examination of antigay policies that are inconsistent with Christian principles. The Equality Riders will stay in touch and provide on-going guidance and support.

Since 2006, the Equality Ride has visited 65 schools, hosting public forums, participating in panel discussions, and taking part in worship services and Bible studies. Often, the Equality Riders are the first LGBT-affirming voices to be heard on campuses with official policies that discriminate against gay and transgender students.

The impact of the Equality Ride on individual lives is immeasurable, but there are some measurable indicators of the Ride’s success. Since the project’s inception, Riders have contributed to:

  • 17 new or revived gay/straight alliances
  • 6 new faculty-led safe spaces
  • 2 positive policy changes (at Samford University and Brigham Young University)

Highlights and Lowpoints of the Third Annual Equality Ride

September 23, 2008: The Soulforce issues an emergency appeal for donations to get the bus on the road despite difficult economic times.

October 1, 2008: Liberty University, founded by Rev. Jerry Falwell, opens the campus for free discussions between Equality Riders and Liberty students.

October 10-11, 2008: Students and administrators at Morehouse College and Spelman College collaborate with Equality Riders to create 2-days of LGBT-affirming programming. These successful events mark the Equality Ride’s first visits to historically black colleges.

October 12, 2008: The Equality Ride bus is vandalized in West Palm Beach, Florida. Bus driver Dondi Penn, a straight ally, is targeted with homophobic slurs.

October 24, 2008: The Equality Ride and Dallas Baptist University hold a joint press conference before an unprecedented day of discussions with faculty, administrators, and students about safety for LGBT students.

November 11, 2008: Equality Riders are physically barred from a public concert at First Baptist Church in Jackson, Tennessee.

November 14, 2008: The Equality Ride bus rolls to a stop in Laurel, Maryland for a week of debriefing and follow-up with schools from the route. Although the official part of the Ride is over, the Riders must still raise $25,000 to cover the bills for this important work.

"This year, and every year, the Equality Ride’s greatest impact is in the one-on-one connections we make, both on and off the bus," said Jarrett Lucas, Equality Ride Co-director. "Building those relationships pushes us to challenge misinformation about our differences and question prejudices. Then we leave the Ride and manifest those lessons in our everyday lives. That empowerment is the heartbeat of social justice. That empowerment is our success."

To interview an Equality Rider from your city or state about the experience of the 2008 Ride, contact Paige Schilt, Soulforce Media Director, or visit our "Meet the Riders" page: https://soulforceactionarchives.org/2008riders

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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The Courier-Journal, "Gay-issues group visits area college"

Gay-issues group visits area college

Bus tour promotes inclusion, safety

Friday, November 14, 2008
By Chris Quay, The Courier-Journal

One by one, members of Equality Ride read aloud short descriptions of prominent African Americans displayed on the black-and-white pictures they held in front of Simmons College.

Taueret Manu, 21, of New York City, held pictures of writer Alice Walker and former civil-rights activist Bayard Rustin.

Rustin, a principal organizer of the 1963 march on Washington and adviser to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., was openly gay. "Not many people know that," Manu said.

Other pictures featured gay, lesbian and transgender African Americans who were victims of hate crimes.

The readings were part of Soulforce Q’s Equality Ride bus tour, a project of young people with alternative lifestyles who visit faith-based colleges to promote inclusion and safety.

As a black gay woman "I know firsthand homophobia, sexism and racism are all intertwined," Manu said. "In order to combat those things you have to hit it at the root, and that’s usually spiritual violence."

The roughly 20 young people in the Equality Ride group stood shoulder to shoulder along the sidewalk. At times they were silent and at other times they sang songs of unity.

The group also walked to St. Stephen Church to meet with individuals and students.

Simmons and St. Stephen were the last destinations on the group’s current tour, which made 16 stops, including visits to Spelman and Morehouse colleges in Atlanta, Palm Beach Atlantic University in Florida and Dallas Baptist University.

Jarrett Lucas, Equality Ride co-director, said the tour chooses schools based on e-mails and letters it receives from students. Lucas said they had previously spoken with a couple of students who attended Simmons and were made to feel that they "didn’t belong."

Manu and Lucas had a spirited discussion with the Rev. Kevin Cosby, Simmons’ president and the St. Stephen pastor, before the group’s sidewalk vigil. The Equality Ride representatives said they asked for permission to visit the school, but Cosby told them he never granted it.

"Equality Ride is about going to academic institutions because if we’re having intellectual and spiritual conversations about people’s lives and about matters of faith, why would we not come to a Christian college," Lucas said. "Dr. Cosby’s presumption about what the Equality Ride is and what we seek to do has led him to a place where he’s not interested in actually engaging us or listening to us."

Cosby told Lucas and Manu that he didn’t have issues with their choice of lifestyle. He said, however, that the issues they are promoting are less important than other concerns facing the African-American community.

"I have a problem when they attempt to define what the agenda is in poor African-American communities. It’s very paternal and arrogant," Cosby said.

"It does not reflect the myriad of problems the urban community is facing," he said. "I believe in equal opportunity and that gays and lesbians should not be discriminated against in any form. However, we’re not talking about the public square and society, we’re talking about the right local churches and private schools have to set policy."

Readers can reach reporter Chris Quay at (502) 582-4241.

The original article is available on the Courier-Journal website:
http://www.courier-journal.com/article/20081114/ZONE07/811140461

Jackson Sun, "Three arrested at peaceful demonstration at Union"

Three arrested at peaceful demonstration at Union

Tuesday, November 11, 2008
By Ned B. Hunter, The Jackson Sun

Three members of the Soulforce Q Equality Ride team were arrested Monday during a peaceful demonstration on the campus of Union University.

The group was protesting university policy regarding homosexual, bisexual and transgender students.

Manuel Lampon of New York, NY; Zakariah Rittenhouse of Frankfort, Ohio and Jarrett Lucas of Minneapolis, Minn. were arrested by police.

They were charged with criminal trespassing, said Jeff Mueller, an attorney representing the men. They were released after posting $1,000 bond, he said.

Criminal trespassing is a Class C misdemeanor carrying a possible penalty of up to 30 days in jail and up to a $50 fine, Mueller said.

A university news release stated that the three were arrested after they "chose to disrespect Union’s private property rights and advance into an area that had been described several times as off limits to the riders."

Union University officials had allowed the protesters to use Luther Hall, a building at the end of Country Club Lane, to assemble and meet with students.

A private university donor volunteered to pay for meals the group might need during its two-day visit to the campus, which ends today.

Soulforce Q members assembled at the building before marching onto campus. They refused the offer of food.

Some students went to Luther Hall to speak with the protesters. But Caitlin MacIntyre, media director for Soulforce, said protesters tried to enter Union’s grounds because Luther Hall was too far from the main campus.

"We were very far removed from the students and unable to react to them," MacIntyre said.

Visit jacksonsun.com and share your thoughts.

The original article is available on the Jackson Sun website:
http://www.jacksonsun.com/article/20081111/NEWS01/811110310

"Locked Out of My Own School:" Equality Ride Visits Union University

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

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SOULFORCE PRESS RELEASE: November 10, 2008
For Immediate Release
Contact: Caitlin MacIntyre, Equality Ride Media Director
Cell: 612-715-6138
caitlin@equalityride.com
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(Jackson, TN) — Today the Soulforce Q Equality Ride visited Union University in hopes of engaging students and faculty in dialogue about faith and fairness for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students. Upon their arrival, Equality Riders were informed by campus officials that they would be permitted to stay at Luther Hall, a building across the street from the main campus, as well as in a limited space at the south entrance of Union. Unfortunately, both of these areas were far removed from student activity and were not conducive to the open dialogue to which the Equality Ride is committed.

"We were placed in areas that severely limited our interaction with students. The goal of the Equality Ride is always to communicate with as many students as possible about faith and the safety of their lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender peers. Therefore, it was absolutely necessary for us to move onto campus and meet students where they are to have this valuable conversation," explains Katie Higgins, Equality Ride Co-director.

When Equality Riders, led by Rachel Watson, a Union graduate, attempted to move further onto campus towards the student center and other more populated areas of Union, they were turned away by police and campus security. "It was heartbreaking to have my Alma Mater turn me away from campus. I wanted to talk to students about my life and the pain I experienced as a lesbian on Union Univertsity’s campus, but instead I was locked out of my own school," Watson says.

Rachel Watson, along with the rest of the Equality Riders, stepped back as instructed by officers, but three Riders who were determined to reach students for discussion continued onto campus and were arrested. The Riders arrested were Zak Rittenhouse of Frankfort, OH; Manny Lampon of New York, NY; and Jarrett Lucas of Minneapolis, MN.

The remaining Equality Riders will stand vigil until 4:00 PM at four of Union University’s entrances hoping to speak with students and provide an affirming viewpoint for gay and transgender people. The Equality Riders will return to Union University again tomorrow in hopes of furthering the discussion about faith and fairness for all people.

Since 2006, the Equality Ride has visited more than 50 schools, hosting public forums, participating in panel discussions, and taking part in worship services and Bible studies. The goal is to inspire further conversation and to empower students, faculty, and administrators to make their school welcoming to all students.

The organizers of the Equality Ride use a collaborative approach, writing to college administrators months in advance and inviting them to work together to design programming that examines diverse points of view — including points of view that affirm gay and transgender students.

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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.

Associated Press, "Equality riders arrested at Union University"

Equality riders arrested at Union University

Monday, November 10, 2008
Uncredited, The Associated Press

JACKSON, Tenn. (AP) — Three people were arrested Monday while trying to speak to Union University students about equality for gay and transgender students.

The Soulforce Q Equality Riders, a social justice organization that visits colleges to encourage discussions on the oppression of gays, included several Union University students.

Officials at the Christian-centered school instructed the equality riders to stay at a building across the street from the main campus and in a limited area at its south entrance Monday.

When demonstrators tried to move further into campus toward the student center, police turned them away.

Zak Rittenhouse, Manny Lampon and Jarrett Lucas continued into campus and were arrested and charged with criminal trespassing.

University officials said in a written statement the university gave the group an area in Luther Hall, a private donor offered meals and administrators encouraged faculty and students to "engage in informal discussions" with the group in the designated area.

"Although Union University cannot affirm this group’s message, the university leadership made an attempt to offer dialog and Christian hospitality to Equality Riders," the statement says. "It is regrettable that the leadership of Soulforce responded by rejecting these offers."

The group wrote in a news release it will return to campus Tuesday to further the discussion on equality for all regardless of sexual orientation.

The original article is available on the WTVC News Channel 9 website:
http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/T/TN_EQUALITY_RIDERS_TNOL-?SITE=WTVCTV&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, "Four gay-rights activists arrested at Baptist college"

Four gay-rights activists arrested at Baptist college

Tuesday, November 4, 2008
By Heather Hahn, The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

CONWAY — Four gay-rights activists were arrested Monday afternoon immediately after they set foot on the Central Baptist College campus.

As Conway police handcuffed three women and one man, their fellow activists remained on the public sidewalk and sang the Christian camp song that begins, “Love, love, love, love, Christians, this is your call.” The 17 activists were all members of Soulforce Q, a group that seeks what it describes as equal treatment for gay students. The group visited the small Conway campus of about 500 students as part of its third annual Equality Ride, a national bus tour of conservative Christian colleges and universities.

“I think it’s unfortunate that they intentionally went to jail to make a point,” Terry Kimbrow, Central Baptist’s president, said after the arrests.

“What they are espousing is opposed to our beliefs. That’s why I denied having them on campus.” Kimbrow had asked the Conway police to help with security. When the Equality Riders arrived around noon, Kimbrow announced that they would be arrested if they stepped off the sidewalk and onto the campus. Conway police officers stood around the campus perimeter.

For about an hour, the riders stood on the sidewalk as instructed. Central Baptist students gathered on the lawn to watch. A few went to talk to the Equality Riders. Also standing with the Equality Riders were some students from nearby University of Central Arkansas and Hendrix College who had come to show moral support.

After the arrests, some activists stayed on the sidewalk and talked to students who approached. Some students debated Bible passages on sexuality with the activists. Others questioned whether they needed to violate the law to get their message across.

“A lot of what we do is symbolic,” said Jarrett Lucas, co-director of the ride. “We do have a very real conversation to bring and we want that genuine exchange, that genuine dialogue. But at the same time, I think it’s really important to see that we face very real rejection from the followers of Christ.” Drew Hanna, a Central Baptist junior from Russellville, was talking to some of those arrested just before they stepped on campus.

“I feel blown off,” Hanna said. “I feel like they don’t really care that much. Because if they really cared, they would have tried to stay and talk to me. They say they want dialogue. But then they walk away to get arrested.” Central Baptist, which is affiliated with the Baptist Missionary Association of Arkansas, was the first stop for the group in the state.

On Wednesday, the group plans to visit Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia. The Southern Baptist-affiliated school, which has about 1, 470 students, also declined the Equality Riders’ request to come on campus. But with the expectation that the group will come anyway, university officials have designated an area on campus for the group to gather.

The three women arrested were Katie Higgins of Minneapolis; Alex Lundy of Syosset, N. Y.; and Lauren Parke of Seattle. Also arrested was Enzi Tanner of Minneapolis. They were all released about two and a half hours later after each paying $ 200 bond on charges of criminal trespass. Private donations help pay for the group’s fines.

Several Central Baptist students said the visit had no impact on their views. They still viewed homosexual acts as sinful.

Higgins, the co-director of the ride, said being arrested was worth it for the conversations it fostered with Central Baptist students. Three Central Baptist students joined the group for dinner that night at a Ruby Tuesday restaurant.

Sally Roberson, a sophomore from Searcy, said she expected the group to be disruptive, but she didn’t think they were.

“I didn’t want them on campus because I thought they were trying to push their beliefs on us,” Roberson said. “Then when they got here, they weren’t trying to push something. They were just trying to make us understand that God loves everybody, and we should accept them.”

The original article is available on The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette website:
http://www.nwanews.com/adg/News/242518/

Riders Arrested Attempting to Attend Chapel at Southwestern Assemblies of God Univ.

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

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SOULFORCE PRESS RELEASE: October 29, 2008
For Immediate Release
Contact: Caitlin MacIntyre, Equality Ride Media Director
Cell: 612-715-6138
caitlin@equalityride.com
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(Waxahachie, TX) — Today, Southwestern Assemblies of God University (SAGU) pressed trespassing charges against three young adults who entered the campus to begin a dialogue about faith and fairness for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students. The young people were members of the Equality Ride, a national bus tour that promotes safety and inclusion for all students on faith-based campuses.

Upon arriving at SAGU, all 16 of the Equality Riders tried to attend chapel services on campus. However, they were stopped by security who told Riders that they would not be allowed to participate in worship. Riders were escorted by guards to a parking lot on the periphery of campus. As Riders got off the bus, they were promptly met by a campus spokesperson who provided an official warning not to come onto the campus property. Once more, Equality Riders expressed their desire to join students in chapel, and were told that was not possible. Three Equality Riders, all of whom identify as Christian, moved forward anyway and were summarily arrested. The three Riders arrested were Manny Lampon, 22, of New York, NY; Zak Rittenhouse, 21, of Frankfurt, OH; and Nicholas Rocco DeFinis, 22, of Philadelphia, PA.

Equality Riders remained at the edge of campus in silent vigil until the Dean of Students, Scott Camp, began to address them. He was soon joined by student leadership and some university staff. Camp led the group in prayer in which he expressed the hope that "the love of Christ would be felt in this circle." In actuality, Equality Riders were forced to remain standing along the boundary that administrators had created while members of the SAGU community gathered freely on the other side.

"It was important for us to acknowledge that there had been a clear line drawn, one that divided Riders from Southwestern representatives. Our hope was that for one day we could erase that line and come together for a genuine and transformational exchange," said Jarrett Lucas, Co-director of the Equality Ride.

Camp indicated that he could understand the feelings of exclusion experienced by Equality Riders, but insisted there was no alternative to the setup, repeatedly saying, "This is where we’re at." Unfortunately, very soon after the conversation had begun Riders were told that it was time to wind down. Then, most of the people from SAGU walked away, leaving Riders outside.

Riders will stand vigil throughout the day on Sycamore Street in hopes of continuing dialogue with students. In addition, they are trying to organize an off-campus event where students can feel comfortable discussing issues that affect lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.

"It’s sad to see that Southwestern Assemblies of God University did not welcome us as other schools here in Texas have. In our experience we’ve seen the value of open discourse and hope that in the future SAGU will embrace the opportunity to allow an affirming voice on campus," shared Katie Higgins, Co-director of the Equality Ride. The Riders recently met with faculty and students at Dallas Baptist University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

The Equality Ride bus is on the road through November 13, 2008. Future stops include:

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.

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Equality Ride Connects Faith and Fairness at 2 Baptist Schools

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

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SOULFORCE PRESS RELEASE: October 28, 2008
For Immediate Release
Contact: Caitlin MacIntyre, Equality Ride Media Director
Cell: 612-715-6138
caitlin@equalityride.com
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(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.

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Equality Ride to Visit Three Texas Colleges

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

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SOULFORCE PRESS RELEASE: October 20, 2008
For Immediate Release
Contact: Caitlin MacIntyre, Equality Ride Media Director
Cell: 612-715-6138
caitlin@equalityride.com
******************************************

(Dallas, TX) On October 24-29, the third annual Soulforce Equality Ride, a national bus tour to faith-based colleges, will bring a message of inclusion and safety to three area schools: Dallas Baptist University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, and Southwestern Assemblies of God University in Waxahachie. The Equality Ride advocates safe educational settings for all students, including those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT).

The schools’ responses to the Ride demonstrate the diversity of contemporary evangelical cultures. Dallas Baptist University (DBU) is collaborating with the Equality Ride to create a full day of dialogue with faculty, students, and administrators. Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS) has offered the Riders time to make a presentation about faith and fairness. In contrast, Southwestern Assemblies of God University (SAGU) has informed the Equality Riders that they are unwelcome on campus and has refused further communication.

The third annual Equality Ride comes to Texas at a moment when research suggests that young white evangelicals are diverging from previous generations on social justice issues. A September 2008 poll commissioned by Religion and Ethics Newsweekly found that 58% of 18-29 year old white evangelicals support some form of legal recognition of civil unions or marriage for same-sex couples; a quarter (26%) support the full right for same-sex couples to marry.

However, in spite of these indications that significant numbers of 18-29 year olds support equality, more than 200 U.S. colleges and universities have explicit policies that discriminate against LGBT students. The DBU student handbook expressly prohibits "student organizations which are homosexual/bisexual in nature." Southwest Baptist lists " homosexual behavior" as grounds for unspecified disciplinary action. The SAGU student handbook lists "homosexuality" and "lesbianism" as grounds for disciplinary action, including "termination from the university."

"It’s very difficult to learn in an environment where you don’t feel safe," said 22-year-old Jarrett Lucas, Co-director of the Equality Ride. "When students can be punished just because of who they are, it’s very difficult for them to speak up about their quality of life on campus. That’s where we come in. We can speak up for a community where everyone can learn without fear."

Since 2006, the Equality Ride has visited more than 50 schools, hosting public forums, participating in panel discussions, and taking part in worship services and Bible studies. The goal is to inspire further conversation and to empower students, faculty, and administrators to make their school welcoming to all students.

Equality Riders invite students at all three schools, as well as members of the Dallas/Fort Worth community, to a community gathering on Saturday the 25th at Reverchon Park in Dallas.
The young adult organizers of the Equality Ride use a collaborative approach, writing to college administrators months in advance and inviting them to work together to design programming that examines diverse points of view — including points of view that affirm gay and transgender students.

PRELIMINARY SCHEDULE FOR WEEK OF 10/20-10/26

Dallas Baptist University
Friday, October 24th, 2008
11:30 am, Press conference outside DBU
12:00 noon, Riders enter campus

DFW/Equality Ride Community Gathering
Saturday, October 25th, 2008
2:00 pm, at Reverchon Park in Dallas

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.