Equality Riders Denied Entry to Baptist Church in Jackson, TN

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

******************************************
SOULFORCE PRESS RELEASE: November 12, 2008
For Immediate Release
Contact: Caitlin MacIntyre, Equality Ride Media Director
Cell: 612-715-6138
caitlin@equalityride.com
******************************************

(Jackson, TN) — On Tuesday night, members of the Soulforce Q Equality Ride, a youth organized bus tour that travels to faith based colleges with a message of inclusion for gay and transgender students, were barred from entering a public concert at First Baptist Church. The event was a showcase by several Union University choral groups, and Riders planned simply to attend and listen. Upon their arrival, Riders were met by police, Union security, and the pastor of First Baptist Church who told them they were unwelcome and had to get back on the bus. When asked why they could not attend the concert they were told they were unwanted and that the church had the right to prevent them from attending.

"I was shocked that a church would prevent us from coming to a concert, especially when we had been invited by some of the performers. It was painful and disheartening to see that a Christ-centered community would not even allow us to enter its doors," said Nick Savelli, an Equality Rider from Tampa, FL.

After being turned away from the church, Riders decided to stand vigil on the public right of way adjacent to the road. However, as they gathered, Jackson police officers approached them once again, telling them that they would not be allowed to stand there and that if they persisted they could face arrest. Equality Ride co-directors spoke to the officers about their right to assemble on the strip of land that was public. Nevertheless, the officers told them that the church did not want them there and they would be arrested if they did not comply.

"The fact that we were being denied the right to stand on a public property because First Baptist didn’t want us there was a clear breach of our right to assemble. We wanted to stand vigil in front of the church because we had been denied entrance, yet even when we stood out in the cold on the roadside we were turned away and lied to by Jackson police," explained Katie Higgins, Soulforce Q Equality Ride Co-director.

Once more the Riders relocated to a grassy plot next to one of the entrances and were finally told they could remain there. Riders held a candlelight vigil, singing songs and reflecting upon their time in Jackson, TN. "As people went into the concert and as they left, we wanted them to realize that we were absent because the church had closed its doors to us," Nicholas Rocco DeFinis, a Rider from Philadelphia, PA said. Riders stayed on site until everyone attending the event had left.

Today the Riders will leave Jackson and travel to Simmons College of Kentucky in Louisville. The three Riders arrested on Monday were originally sentenced to twenty-four hours of community service in a park adjacent to Union University. However, Union officials said they did not want Equality Riders to remain in Jackson and be near the University for the next three days. So, they asked the judge to rescind the sentence and allow all of the Riders to continue on to their last stop.

"We are pleased that our entire group will be united for our final stop. Still, there are many conversations that need to happen here in Jackson, and we hope to return at some point to contribute to those. Meanwhile, it is our sincere hope that Union University will embody Christ and embrace its lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students," Jarrett Lucas, Co-director of the Ride explained.

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.

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

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

******************************************
SOULFORCE PRESS RELEASE: November 10, 2008
For Immediate Release
Contact: Caitlin MacIntyre, Equality Ride Media Director
Cell: 612-715-6138
caitlin@equalityride.com
******************************************

(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.

###

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

Riders Arrested at Central Baptist College in Arkansas

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

******************************************
SOULFORCE PRESS RELEASE: November 4, 2008
For Immediate Release
Contact: Caitlin MacIntyre, Equality Ride Media Director
Cell: 612-715-6138
caitlin@equalityride.com
******************************************

(Conway, AR) — Yesterday, the Equality Ride, a youth-organized bus tour that travels to faith-based universities to create a dialogue about faith and fairness for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students, visited Central Baptist College. Upon their arrival, Riders were met by President Kimbrow, who informed Riders that they were not permitted onto campus and that they would be arrested for trespassing if they proceeded. Riders remained in vigil outside of CBC property as members of the community joined them in front of the school.

At 11:00, four Riders who hoped to speak to the students who were gathered on campus property were arrested for trespassing. The Riders were Lauren Parke of Seattle, WA; Alex Lundy of Syosset, NY; Katie Higgins of Minneapolis, MN; and Enzi Tanner of Minneapolis, MN. They were released this afternoon after posting bail.

"It is unfortunate that the school chose to deny us the opportunity to create dialogue on campus. We feel that the message of safety and inclusion for all students, including those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender is too important to be limited by property lines," Alex Lundy, one of the arrested Riders and the organizer of the Central Baptist stop explains.

Following the arrests, students started approaching the Equality Riders to begin discussions. Numerous students remained in conversations with Riders about religion, gender, and sexuality for the remainder of the day. The Equality Riders were joined by students from nearby Hendrix College and by Arkansas residents Bob and Mary Lou Wallner, who are featured in the film For the Bible Tells Me So.

"We tried to get students to understand our shared humanity and realize the oppression and pain that students on their campus are facing because of the policies and beliefs of Central Baptist College. Through building relationships, we hope to create an environment of discussion that continues after the Equality Ride has left campus," says Katie Higgins, Equality Ride co-director.

The Equality Ride plans to return to campus on Friday, when the Baptist Missionionary Association will be meeting on campus, to have a vigil at Central Baptist in hopes of engaging some leadership in the organization about the damaging effects of religious oppression.

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

Nov. 5 Ouachita Baptist University Arkadelphia, 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.com.

###

 

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
******************************************

(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.

###

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
******************************************

(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.

###

Two Equality Riders Arrested at Mississippi College

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

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

(Clinton, MS) — At 1:00 pm today, two Equality Riders and two Mississippi College (MC) students walked onto that school’s campus to deliver a letter from an anonymous gay male student who is currently enrolled at MC. After the first warning from MC security, the two students stepped back. The Equality Riders continued onto campus and were arrested for trespassing.

Part of the letter read, "I honestly fear that when I do decide to let the public know who I really am, many of the organizations and activities with which I am involved will turn me away." The letter also described his experiences as a gay man on MC campus, where he has been the target of anti-gay speech.

"This letter is a clear indication that there are students on this campus who are struggling to have their voices heard. If the student were to openly express the content of this letter, he would be placing himself at risk." said Katie Higgins, Equality Ride Co-director.

The Equality Ride is a youth-organized bus tour to Christian colleges. The Ride promotes safety and fairness for all students, including those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender. This visit to MC is the seventh Equality Ride stop this year. Last year, five Equality Riders were arrested at MC and three were sentenced to community service.

Now in its third year, the Equality Ride has visited over fifty schools, most of which have been welcoming. At other schools, participants have hosted public forums, participated in panel discussions, and taken 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.

The two women arrested were Caitlin MacIntyre, 19, of Houston, Alex Lundy, 21, of Syosset, NY. They have already been released and, along with the other Equality Riders, are continuing conversations with students. They will remain outside Mississippi College until 5:00 pm CST.

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.

Riders Connect with Columbia International Students, Despite Official Surveillance

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SOULFORCE PRESS RELEASE: October 7, 2008
For Immediate Release

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

(Columbia, SC)– Yesterday, 17 young adults arriving on the campus of Columbia International University (CIU) were met with police tape and barriers. The young people were members of the Equality Ride, a national bus tour of Christian campuses, which aims to promote dialogue about fairness and safety for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students. CIU administrators cordoned off a small area near the road for Equality Riders to speak with students.

"The sense of limitation, of being told that our voices were only allowed to carry so far, was so much like what lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students face at Columbia International everyday," Enzi Tanner, an Equality Rider from Minneapolis explains. "We wanted to be present for all the students, including those who were too afraid to cross the barrier the university had constructed."

Columbia International University’s official policy is that "homosexual behavior" is sinful. The climate on campus is one of judgment and fear for LGBT students. More than 200 U.S. colleges and universities have explicit policies that discriminate against LGBT students, and a 2003 survey of 14 American universities found that more than a third of all LGBT undergraduates had experienced harassment in the past year.

Administrators and faculty were present at all phases of conversation and presided over the dialogue. Yet despite the official surveillance, approximately 50 students exchanged views and experiences with the Equality Riders.

At 2:00 PM, students and Riders gathered together in a circle to thank each other for the time they were able to share through singing, prayer, and reflection. As the circle broke andRiders began to form small groups with students once again, police cars pulled directly up to the barriers and CIU officials told Riders that they must immediately evacuate the area and move to the road side to await the arrival of their bus.

"It was our intention to continue talking with students in the designated area, since, to our knowledge, time limits had not been placed on our presence," said Katie Higgins of Goose Creek, SC, and co-director of the Equality Ride. "An uncomfortable situation was made worse when we were pushed out to the side of the road while the students were still with us. "

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.

Today the Equality Riders will visit with students at the University of South Carolina in Columbia before moving on to Atlanta, where they will visit Morehouse College and Spelman College. Both Morehouse and Spelman are welcoming the Equality Riders and approaching safety and inclusion for LGBT students as an important part of student life.

###

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.

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/