Two Equality Riders Arrested at Mississippi College

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
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(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.

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:
http://www.clarionledger.com/article/D7/20081020/NEWS/81020002/1001

The Clarion-Ledger, "Gay rights group plans MC protest"

Six arrested on Florida University campus in gay rights protest

Trespassing will bring police, college says

Saturday, October 18, 2008
By Ruth Ingram, Clinton News

Jackson, MS—A gay rights group threatens to trespass this weekend on Mississippi College’s campus to deliver a message of "inclusion" for all students, risking arrests and fines.

But the president of the college’s Student Government Association says another visit to the Christian campus by Soulforce is nothing more than a bid for publicity.

The national gay rights organization that last year protested at MC is returning Sunday and Monday. Likely, protesters will do what they did when they lined up on campus March 22, 2007: They will knowingly step onto MC property and be arrested for trespassing.

The Soulforce Q Equality Ride bus tour will come to the private Baptist college at 8 p.m. Sunday for a candlelight vigil on College Street across from the Aven Arts Building. A second vigil is Monday at 9 a.m. on College Street.

At 1 p.m. Monday, Soulforce officials say, Equality Ride members will attempt "to go on campus."

College administrators forbade Equality Ride protesters from setting foot on college property in 2007. When four crossed onto the area across from Aven, they were arrested by Clinton police and charged with misdemeanor trespassing. A fifth was later arrested and charged; all were released after each paid a $250 fine.

MC administrators are saying little about the visit.

"If Soulforce chooses to trespass, we will call the Clinton Police Department," said public relations director Tracey Harrison. Campus security will be present during the vigils and the Monday afternoon event, she said.

In 2007, the Clinton Police Department stationed its SWAT van across from the administration building and had a strong police presence.

This year, Harrison said, the college will ask for Clinton police support "only if necessary."

The college learned of the visit in an Aug. 1 letter from Soulforce staff to MC President Lee Royce, Harrison said.

The visit is one of 15 stops at private Christian colleges on the Equality Ride’s 2008 route, which began Oct. 1 at private Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., and ends Nov. 13 at Simmons College in Louisville, Ky.

The group "will bring a message of safety and inclusion to Mississippi College," Soulforce said in a news release.

Clinton resident Harley McAlexander, president of MC’s Student Government Association, said the second visit by Soulforce isn’t creating much conversation among students.

"I wish there was a way that this (visit) could be mutually beneficial to both of us, but it’s unfortunate that they (Soulforce) seem to be more into getting publicity."

Mississippi College’s student handbook says extramarital and premarital sex and homosexual behavior are not tolerated on campus.

It says nothing about banning homosexuals from enrollment.

Harrison said members of Soulforce do not enjoy all of the liberties they would on a public university campus. "The (U.S.) Constitution requires government to respect the rights of free speech," she said. "MC is not a public institution.

"MC does not allow activists on campus who do not advance our commitment to the cause of Christ."

The original article is available on the Clarion-Ledger website:
http://www.clarionledger.com/article/20081018/NEWS/810180349/1001/news