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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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

"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.

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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