The Clarion-Ledger, "Gay rights activists arrested again at MC"

Gay rights activists arrested again at MC

Monday, October 20, 2008
By Ruth Ingram, Clinton News

Jackson, MS—If the gay rights group Soulforce created a big splash during its visit to Mississippi College in early 2007, its return visit Monday produced a ripple by comparison.

Absent was the Clinton Police Department’s SWAT team, its large communications truck and a heavy presence of both Clinton police and security officers employed by the private Baptist college.

Also absent was Soulforce’s brightly painted charter bus that entered campus in 2007 as part of an escorted motorcade. Instead, the 16 “Equality Ride” members who staged a vigil and protest were dropped off and the bus parked elsewhere.

The purpose of the visit, however, was unchanged. Members of Soulforce, a Lynchburg, Va., organization that advocates “relentless nonviolent resistance” to get its message across, wanted to call attention to MC’s policies against homosexual behavior.

“We want to provide hope and safety for the students here, and to tell them we love you just the way you are,” said Caitlin MacIntyre, 19, a junior at Rice University in Houston and the tour’s media director.

Soulforce members who take part in the group’s annual tour of Christian colleges arrive on campus, hold vigils on public sidewalks and streets, then designate several members to walk onto the college’s private grounds, where they are arrested for trespassing. Last year, four members were charged with trespassing at MC.

On Monday, Soulforce riders MacIntyre and Alex Lundy, 21, of Syosset, N.Y., linked arms with MC students Jonathan Parker, 20, of Louisville and Mary Sue Strong, 19, of Jackson and strode onto the grassy area leading to Nelson Hall, the administration building.

Two of a half-dozen or so MC security officers met them quickly, told them that they would be charged with trespassing, and asked MacIntyre and Lundy to follow them to the alumni building.

There, Clinton police were to load them into a van for booking.

MacIntyre and Lundy held hands and followed police in contrast to last year, when protesters were immediately handcuffed when they stepped on MC property.

Strong and Parker were left behind to watch the two women depart.

“The school has done what it can to silence the persecution on this campus,” said Strong, who with Parker describes herself as a “straight ally” of homosexual students.

“It’s not OK to turn a blind eye to what goes on here,” she said. “There is hatred on campus.”

Parker said he was a little scared to defy the administration and walk in solidarity with the Soulforce riders.

“My heart was kind of shaking a little bit,” he said. “But I wanted to stand up for what I believe in. There is no room for hatred on the campus of MC.”

Before the arrests, a group of about 50 students gathered on school property across from more than a dozen Soulforce riders and another dozen students standing with them on the sidewalk in solidarity.

Soulforce member Zak Rittenhouse, a sophomore at Ohio University, stood in the middle of the line they formed, reading an anonymous letter from a student who said he must live “in the closet” at MC.

Some MC students say they defend Soulforce’s right to speak out, but disagree with their message.

“A lot of them stated that ‘We are simply people.’ I agree with that,” said sophomore kinesiology major James Turcotte, 19, of Clinton. His father is Jim Turcotte, MC’s vice president of enrollment management and student affairs.

“I will accept a homosexual person, but I do not agree with their values,” the younger Turcotte said. “In the Bible, Sodom and Gommorah were wiped off the face of this planet because of homosexuality.”

His friend Josh Long, 23, of Clinton took in a few minutes of the protest on his way to his next class.

“It was interesting, to say the least,” Long said. “Even though they were told they were not welcome and if they stepped foot on the grounds they would get arrested, they still did it.”

MC released a statement from Eric Pratt, the college’s vice president for Christian development.

"Soulforce continues to undermine traditional Biblical positions. It is clear that Soulforce is not tolerant of individuals or institutions that hold a conservative, evangelical position,” he said.

“We will not allow any group to force their agenda upon us.”

The original article is available on the Clarion-Ledger website: