Charleston City Paper, "Katie Writes in from Soulforce Bus"

Katie Writes in from Soulforce Bus

Monday, October 6, 2008
Introduction by Greg Hambrick, Charleston City Paper

We asked Katie Higgins to give us the word from the Soulforce bus after they visited Liberty University on their way to Columbia today.

    Our visit to Liberty University is an excellent example of why we do push the envelope on the college campuses that say that our voices are not allowed.  In 2005, Jerry Falwell allowed over 60 young adults from Soulforce to join students on campus.  In 2006, over 20 were arrested and this year, his son, Jerry Falwell, Jr., repeatedly told the media that we would not be allowed on campus.  Obviously, we were allowed on and as always, there were many students who were eager to speak with us.  So many in fact, that we had to bring them off campus to where the rest of the Riders were.  Had we not moved forward with our intention to be on campus, we would have fallen short of our goal for LU students to have the chance to talk with us about our message of inclusion and justice.  More so than any year before, we have heard from many LU students who are LGBT and desperately need us to be a voice of reason on their campus.

    As we drive to Columbia tomorrow, I will be hoping that the folks of my home state make the right decision and allow us on campus.  Columbia International University has gone to great lengths to keep their students from speaking with us and I know this because a few have contacted us out of disappointment in their university.  That is probably the hardest thing for me to understand- What about our message is so threatening?  Is it the delivery?  We are a small group of young adults who have dedicated their lives to learning the philosophy and methods of nonviolence and we stand at a school’s gate with our Bibles and open hearts.  CIU has said that if we walk onto campus, that we would be arrested under South Carolina’s trespassing laws. I have to believe that they are better than that; I have to believe that when they see that we bring with us nothing but our own truths, we will be welcomed.  My mom is joining us on Monday and with that, I am finally ready to make my home an active part of my journey for justice.

The original article is available in the "Gay Charleston" section on the Charleston City Paper website:
http://gaycharleston.ccpblogs.com/2008/10/06/katie-writes-in-from-soulforce-bus/

Equality Riders and Liberty U. Students Create Spirited Diaogue On Campus

Video Available Online

******************************************
SOULFORCE PRESS RELEASE: October 2, 2008
For Immediate Release

Contact: Caitlin MacIntyre, 
Equality Ride Media Director
Cell: 612-715-6138 Email: caitlin@equalityride.com
******************************************

(Lynchburg, Virginia) — Yesterday, 17 young adults arrived at Liberty University to continue a discussion about gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people and Christianity. The Soulforce Q Equality Ride, now in its third year, seeks to make faith-based college campuses safe and welcoming learning environments for all students by promoting dialogue about faith and fairness.

Liberty University, the first stop on this year’s Equality Ride, was visited by Soulforce Q in 2006 when over 20 people were arrested for trespassing as they attempted to enter campus to speak to students.

This year the Equality Ride received a different reception. Five Riders were allowed to enter campus to deliver books to the Guillerman Library. "Students have told us that when they visit Guillerman, books that affirm LGBT people are clearly absent," Katie Higgins, one of the Equality Ride’s Co-directors explains. At this point, school officials have said they are reviewing the books to determine whether they fit within the school’s established curriculum. Higgins continues, "Having these books on the shelves would mean that our voices of hope don’t fade when our bus pulls away."

After the Riders donated the books to the library, they moved to a courtyard on campus. As Riders sang hymns, students started to gather and conversations began shortly after. Over the course of an hour, the five Equality Riders spoke to groups of up to forty students, many of whom were actively engaged in the dialogue. (Video of the exchange is available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6z-z_2qfl7s)

Since only five Equality Riders were permitted on campus, students were encouraged to continue the discussion with the Riders at a designated location on University Blvd. "Every Rider has a unique story. Since all of the Liberty students we spoke to seemed genuinely interested in this discussion, we wanted them to be able to hear all of our voices," says Nicholas Rocco DeFinis, a Rider from Lansdale, PA. The dialogue continued until 5:30 PM when Soulforce Q’s permit expired.

An anonymous student thanked the Riders: "Just by being here, you are providing so much comfort to so many students."

More than 200 U.S. colleges and universities have explicit policies that discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students. At Liberty University, gay and lesbian students are subject to reprimands and disciplinary consequences, including ex-gay conversion counseling and expulsion.

Some schools without explicit policies nevertheless foster climates where harassment of LGBT students is prevalent. A 2003 survey of 14 American universities found that more than a third of all LGBT undergraduates had experienced harassment in the past year.

Since 2006, the Equality Ride has visited 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.

###

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.

 

 

Lynchburg News & Advance, "Gay activist group debates homosexuality at Liberty University"

Gay activist group debates homosexuality at Liberty University

Wednesday, October 1, 2008
By Christa Desrets, Lynchburg News & Advance

The dialogue began slowly.

Five members of the gay activist group Soulforce held hands Wednesday afternoon and stood to face about 50 Liberty University students behind the school’s DeMoss Hall in Lynchburg.

They had just returned from donating five gay-affirming Christian books to the school’s library, and Caitlin MacIntyre invited onlookers to join them in singing “Amazing Grace.”

“No thanks,” one student said.

Across the sidewalk, students paged through Bibles as the hymn’s familiar first verse filled the air.

Liberty student Lawanda Sowell said she was searching for passages to describe her belief that homosexuality is a sin.

“They believe in what they believe because they are blind,” she said.

The song ended, and the two groups stood opposite each other with two different opinions on how to interpret the role of homosexuality and the definition of marriage in the Bible.

Liberty was the first of 15 planned stops at faith-based institutions on Soulforce’s annual Equality Ride, a national bus tour meant to encourage an inviting environment for any on-campus gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender students.

“Nowhere in the Bible does it say, ‘homosexuality is sin,’” said Soulforce member Nicholas Rocco DeFinis.

Liberty student Steven Mosley disagreed.

“This is never affirmed in the Bible, ever,” he countered. “You should not be living like this.”

Soulforce member Danielle Cooper said many things have changed since the days of Jesus.

“Marriage, in terms of how we see it, has come a long, long way,” she said.

Although they disagreed, dialogue was exactly what Soulforce had hoped for, said Jarrett Lucas.

“It has to be open and it has to be honest,” he said. “Ideally, we come together and understand each other before the end of the day — or however long it takes.”

Earlier this week, Liberty officials had said they would not allow the group on campus. When Soulforce members came to the school in 2006, more than 20 were arrested on charges of trespassing after walking onto school property.

“It wasn’t our intention to tell them ahead of time to come on campus,” Chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr. said Wednesday. “In fact, we told them they couldn’t. But they didn’t cause any incidents, so we didn’t arrest anybody.”

“Most students believe, like my father did, that you should love the sinner, hate the sin, show compassion and try to be a good witness. So that’s what I think our students did today.”

Capt. Al Thomas with the Lynchburg Police Department monitored the assembly from off campus and said the day was incident-free.

In the past couple of weeks, he has facilitated conversations between Soulforce and Liberty as the activist group planned for the event.

“They assured us that this would be a peaceful, nonviolent assembly, and I think that has gone according to plan,” he said Wednesday afternoon.

Liberty junior Erika Green said she was happy to have the chance to speak with the group.

“We’re supposed to love everyone, so it would be wrong to turn them away,” she said.

Katie Higgins, co-director of the Equality Ride, said the group had been in contact with gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students at Liberty who felt that the school community promoted discrimination against them.

Falwell said the school’s code of conduct does not prohibit homosexuality, but it does forbid sexual activity outside of marriage.

“And in order for there to be a marriage in Virginia, it has to be between a man and a woman,” he said earlier this week.

As for the donated books, he said, “Somebody brought them up to my office today, and we have a committee that will decide whether to make them a part of the collection or not.”

After more than an hour of discussion, Soulforce members walked back to their bus and a dozen other Equality Riders who rallied from just outside of campus. Many students joined them. The group is in town until Sunday, and plans a discussion on the role of homosexuality in Christianity today at 11 a.m. at the Starbucks on Wards Road.

Wednesday’s dialogue had begun slowly, but continued as clusters formed here and there along University Boulevard.

Bill Carpenter, director of national actions for Soulforce, looked on with interest.

“We’re just beginning the adventure for this year,” he said.

 

The original article is available on the Lynchburg News & Advance website:
http://www.newsadvance.com/lna/news/local/article/gay_activist_group_debates_homosexuality_at_liberty_university/8984/

USA Today, "Liberty to Allow Gay Group to Visit Campus"

Liberty To Allow Gay Group To Visit Campus

Tuesday, September 30, 2008
By Ashley Gipson, Religion News Service

WASHINGTON — The Soulforce 2008 Equality Ride, a nationwide bus tour that promotes acceptance for gays and lesbians on Christian college campuses, will start this year’s tour with a Wednesday visit to Liberty University — the first time the group will be allowed on campus.

In 2006, more than 20 Equality Ride activists were arrested for attempting to enter Liberty’s campus to donate gay-affirming Christian books to the library.

This year’s visit will mark the group’s first visit to Liberty since Jerry Falwell Jr. assumed leadership after the death of his father. Riders say they hope the campus’ zeal for politics will allow open conversation about "faith and fairness," they said.

"We are in contact with Liberty students who have been waiting for the Equality Ride to return," said Katie Higgins, Equality Ride’s co-director.

Liberty officials have indicated that they will not plan opportunities for dialogue, but they will not ban the Equality Riders from speaking with students and donating materials to the university, according to a statement released by Soulforce.

"If the administration would rather not talk about safety and quality of life for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students, the students themselves are another story," Soulforce said.

This year’s tour will target more seminaries than earlier campaigns. The Equality Riders will host forums, participate in panel discussions, and engage in community service opportunities to reach out to the students.

"We bring hope to students who fear expulsion or other sanctions just for being themselves," said Higgins. "We tell them God loves them just as they are, and we speak up for a community where everyone can learn without fear."

Johnnie Moore, Liberty’s spiritual programs director, declined to comment about the Equality Riders coming to campus.

The original article is available on the USA Today website
www.usatoday.com/news/religion/2008-09-30-liberty-gay_N.htm