Soulforce Equality Riders Bring Attention To Discrimination and Fear
Civil Rights Trump Gay Rights In Mississippi – ACLU Steps In
Six Major GLBT Rights Organizations Step In With Letter to The Mayor of Clinton
BYU Arrests Mother and Son
SOULFORCE PRESS RELEASE: March 25, 2007
For Immediate Release
Contact: Brandon Kneefel, West Bus Media Director
Cell: 612-715-6138, firstname.lastname@example.org
Kyle DeVries, East Bus Media Director
Cell: 612-715-6284, email@example.com
(Clinton, MI and Provo, UT) — The Soulforce Equality Riders arrived at the Mississippi College campus in Clinton seeking to end religion-based oppression of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender LGBT people at Christian colleges across the country. The riders are attempting to engage in a dialogue concerning the harmful effects of policies that silence of exclude LGBT students. Twenty-five lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and straight young adults made the trip. Four of the group’s members were arrested when they stepped off a public sidewalk and onto the grass in front of the college’s administration building. The fifth was arrested about an hour later for the same thing. The Riders were given the choice of staying in jail for a week or performing three days of community service. They chose the latter and will stay behind in Clinton and reconnect with the bus in Alabama. Authorities continued to harass the Equality Riders throughout the day. Local officers used harsh and intimidating language with the Riders. SWAT teams from Clinton Township were also called in. The Soulforce Equality bus was continuously followed and forced to leave Clinton. As Riders were waiting for the return of some of the members of Soulforce to return a police vehicle approached the bus with its lights flashing, signaling the bus to move. The bus driver immediately turned down the nearest road and into a church parking lot to await the Equality Riders. The same officer once again followed them into the parking lot, with his lights on and asked the driver to speak with him. The officer was quite aggressive in demanding that they "go on and get out of town." The driver explained that we were still waiting on the remainder of our group, but was still forced to move the bus. At that time, they drove and parked the bus in a lot that was previously designated by the city of Clinton. For the third time, a police vehicle approached them with flashing lights. The officer who had approached the bus was extremely indignant and asked "what is your problem? We have already given you breaks today." The driver explained that we were in the space the City provided for us. In response, the officer asserted that the driver would be arrested if he were to take Equality Riders anywhere else and not leave the city of Clinton immediately.
In a letter to Rosemary G. Aultman, Mayor of the City of Clinton, Lambda Legal, NGLTF, NCLR, GLAAD, HRC and Log Cabin Republicans state: On March 20, Clinton police officials informed Soulforce that its members would be cited if they
"attempt[ed] to gather or travel in a group of four or more" near the campus of Mississippi College. Lt. Thomas R. Ruffin acknowledged that the department’s actions "could be construed as conflicting with constitutional allowances," but said that Soulforce’s presence in Clinton presented "valid public safety concerns." This accusation is utterly without merit: Soulforce is enormously well respected across the country and is relentlessly nonviolent. Only after being contacted by the American Civil Liberties Union did the police lift the threat of citation.
Despite the arrests, riders and students engaged in constructive dialogue about sexuality, gender, and faith. Over one hundred Mississippi students eagerly awaited the Equality riders in hopes of opening up this dialogue. Many shared stories of discrimination and fear for their lives.
Some students supported the group’s right to visit the school. "While I disagree with them, I believe we should welcome them," 20-year-old student Alex Touchstone, of Meridian, said. "Jesus loves them the same as he loves us."
Rider Brandy Daniels states, "It was exciting and encouraging to see students cross school boundaries to engage in conversation. It really demonstrates that this is a conversation that students want to have, despite the opposition of the administration."
"We come to these campuses to create dialogue and to be a support for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people," Daniels said. "Mississippi College teaches that LGBT people are sick and sinful. But we know and express that God affirms LGBT people in their identity and truth."
Mississippi College is one of 32 Christian colleges and universities that Soulforce will visit as part of its second annual Soulforce Equality Ride. The 2007 Equality Ride is a 2 month journey by bus that is taking 50 young adults on 2 distinct routes to schools that actively discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Mississippi College is a private Christian college located in Clinton, Mississippi. Their student handbook includes "homosexual activities" in a list of improprieties subject to disciplinary sanctions.
The riders came to speak with students at the university about this discriminatory policy towards lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students and the doctrine that sustains it.
At BYU on Thursday, Mormon Equality Rider Kourt Osborn, and his mother, Karel Allen, were arrested in an attempt to deliver a list of concerns to the administration regarding BYU’s discriminatory policies against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students. Current and former BYU students, gay and straight, submitted over fifty pages of concerns for the well being of LGBT students at BYU. Four of the Riders were raised in the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints.
The BYU Student Honor Code states that "no one known to be guilty of overt and active homosexual conduct is to be enrolled or permitted to remain at Church Educational System (CES) campuses as students…"
Equality Riders spent an afternoon at Utah Valley State College leading presentations about sexual orientation and faith for community members, including LDS youth, and spent Wednesday evening with fifty BYU students discussing the reconciliation of the Church and LGBT individuals.
Melissa Pomeroy, a sophomore at BYU, shared her concern: "I feel like I’m all alone at BYU. There is no way for me to meet others like me, even just to talk, because everyone is so afraid of coming out."
"We remain hopeful that the student leaders will continue this dialogue beyond our [Equality Ride] visit and that the administration will come to see the value in this discussion," says Matt Kulisch.
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. For more information go to www.soulforce.org or www.equalityride.com.