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

Equality Riders to Return to Clinton, Miss., Site of Police Harassment and Intimidation in 2007

Young Adults Tour Christian Colleges to Advocate Safety and Inclusion for All Students

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SOULFORCE MEDIA ADVISORY: October 14, 2008
For Immediate Release

Contact: Caitlin MacIntyre, 
Equality Ride Media Director
Cell: 612-715-6138 Email: caitlin@equalityride.com
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What: On October 19 and 20, the Soulforce Q Equality Ride, a six-week bus tour to faith-based colleges, will bring a message of safety and inclusion to Mississippi College in Clinton, Miss. The Equality Ride promotes safe educational settings for all students, including those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT).

When the Equality Ride visited Mississippi College in 2007, Clinton police issued a written warning that Riders would be arrested for congregating in groups of four or more near the campus. The ACLU of Mississippi intervened, and the Clinton police withdrew the unconstitutional restrictions on First Amendment rights.

However, as the young adult Equality Riders attempted to depart from Clinton, Mississippi, they were stopped three times by police vehicles within less than ten minutes. Their driver was subjected to threatening demands to "get out of town." Leaders of six national equality organizations wrote a letter of protest to Mayor Aultman of Clinton.

Why: More than 200 U.S. colleges and universities have explicit policies that discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students. At Mississippi College the student handbook states, "sexual impropriety includes but is not limited to participation in or appearance of engaging in premarital sex, extramarital sex or homosexual activities."

Equality Riders have been in contact with several students on campus, including one who feels that coming out on campus is not possible for her. She has stated that she fears the repercussions of coming out and the reactions of her peers and administration.

When: Sunday, October 19, 2008
8:00 pm, Candlelight vigil

Monday, October 20, 2008
9:00 am, Vigil
1:00 pm, Equality Ride attempts to go on campus

Where: Vigil will take place on College Street across from the Aven Arts Building (same as last year).

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.

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