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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The Houston Chronicle, "Gay-rights group members arrested at college"

Gay-rights group members arrested at college

Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Uncredited, The Associated Press

WAXAHACHIE, Texas — Three members of a gay-rights group on a nationwide bus tour of faith-based universities were arrested Wednesday after going to a private campus that had banned them, officials said.

Three members of Soulforce were charged with trespassing after they tried to go to a chapel service at Southwestern Assemblies of God University, a 1,900-student Pentecostal school, according to the Waxahachie Police Department. Their bond was to be set at an arraignment Wednesday afternoon.

The group earlier sent a letter to Southwestern Assemblies requesting a forum, but the president declined and asked Soulforce to stay off the campus, said university spokesman Ryan McElhany.

"It’s not a question that’s up for debate for us," McElhany said. "We love the people, but we do believe that homosexuality is a sin."

The Southwestern Assemblies handbook lists homosexuality as an offense for which a student can be expelled, but if a current student is struggling with such feelings, he or she may be referred to counseling instead, McElhany said.

Soulforce has already held forums at nearly a dozen campuses since the Equality Ride tour began earlier this month to promote inclusion at schools it believes have policies that discriminate against gay students. Several Soulforce members have already been arrested for trespassing at three schools in other states.

"We never want to get arrested; our goal is to spread a message of hope and fairness and to talk to students and meet them where they are," said Soulforce spokeswoman Caitlin MacIntyre. "Three men really wanted to attend the (Southwestern Assemblies of God University) chapel service, and we would have reached more people, but the university put up boundaries."

She said more colleges welcome than reject the group. Dallas Baptist University has been the most receptive during this tour because last week’s forum was a daylong event in which Soulforce met with its administrators, faculty and students, MacIntyre said.

Before the Wednesday arrests, about 15 Southwestern Assemblies representatives — including administrators and student leaders — had a "low-key discussion" with the 15 or so Soulforce members, McElhany said. Afterward, the bus remained parked in a public area near campus and some students went there throughout the day to talk to group members, he said. The school also provided the group with drinks and snacks, he said.

The original article is available on The Houston Chronicle website:
http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/ap/tx/6084350.html

Southwestern Assemblies of God University

Name: Southwestern Assemblies of God University
Location: Waxahachie, TX
Religious Affiliation: Christian and Missionary Alliance
Enrollment: 1,800
Website: http://sagu.edu/home/
Accreditation:
Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools

Concerning GLBT Equality:

The Southwestern Assemblies of God University 2008-9 Student Handbook contains the following:

Biblical Standards

The following may incur a fine from $50 up to $250 and could result in the student appearing before the Student Committee and possible termination from the University. Failure to comply with disciplinary action could result in another fine or further disciplinary action.

2. Any Scripturally prohibited sexual behavior as described in Exodus 20:14; Proverbs 6:32; Matthew 5:27-28; Matthew 15:19; Mark 7: 21-23; Romans 13:9; Timothy 1:8-11 and 1 Corinthians 6:13, 6:18 including:

a. adultery

b. Fornication (which by scriptural definition encompasses intercourse, oral sex, or any physical contact producing sexual stimulation)

c. Homosexuality

d. Lesbianism

The entire policy can be seen in the Southwestern Assemblies of God University Student Handbook, which can be viewed here.

Press Release Newswire, "Soulforce Equality Ride to Visit Three Texas Christian Campuses"

Soulforce Equality Ride to Visit Three Texas Christian Campuses

The Equality Ride, a national bus tour of Christian campuses, will visit Dallas Baptist University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Southwestern Assemblies of God University to advocate safety and fairness for gay and transgender Students.

Dallas, TX (PRWEB) October 22, 2008 — On October 24-29, the third annual Soulforce Equality Ride, a national bus tour to faith-based colleges, will bring a message of inclusion and safety to three area schools: Dallas Baptist University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, and Southwestern Assemblies of God University in Waxahachie. The Equality Ride advocates safe educational settings for all students, including those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT).

The schools’ responses to the Ride demonstrate the diversity of contemporary evangelical cultures. Dallas Baptist University (DBU) is collaborating with the Equality Ride to create a full day of dialogue with faculty, students, and administrators. Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS) has offered the Riders time to make a presentation about faith and fairness. In contrast, Southwestern Assemblies of God University (SAGU) has informed the Equality Riders that they are unwelcome on campus and has refused further communication. The third annual Equality Ride comes to Texas at a moment when research suggests that young white evangelicals are diverging from previous generations on social justice issues. A September 2008 poll commissioned by Religion and Ethics Newsweekly found that 58% of 18-29 year old white evangelicals "support some form of legal recognition of civil unions or marriage for same-sex couples; a quarter (26%) support the full right for same-sex couples to marry."

However, in spite of these indications that significant numbers of 18-29 year olds support equality, more than 200 U.S. colleges and universities have explicit policies that discriminate against LGBT students. The DBU student handbook expressly prohibits "student organizations which are homosexual/bisexual in nature." Southwest Baptist lists " homosexual behavior" as grounds for unspecified disciplinary action. The SAGU student handbook lists "homosexuality" and "lesbianism" as grounds for disciplinary action, including "termination from the university."

"It’s very difficult to learn in an environment where you don’t feel safe," said 22-year-old Jarrett Lucas, Co-director of the Equality Ride. "When students can be punished just because of who they are, it’s very difficult for them to speak up about their quality of life on campus. That’s where we come in. We can speak up for a community where everyone can learn without fear."

A 2003 survey of 14 American universities found that more than a third of all LGBT undergraduates had experienced harassment in the past year.

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.

Equality Riders invite students at all three schools, as well as members of the Dallas/Fort Worth community, to a community gathering on Saturday the 25th at Reverchon Park in Dallas.

The young adult 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.

PRELIMINARY SCHEDULE FOR WEEK OF 10/24-10/27

Dallas Baptist University

Friday, October 24th, 2008

    11:30 am, Press conference outside DBU

    12:00 noon, Riders enter campus

DFW/Equality Ride Community Gathering

Saturday, October 25th, 2008

    2:00 pm, at Reverchon Park in Dallas

Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

Monday, October 27, 2008

    2:00 pm, Equality Riders are escorted onto campus

    3:30-5:30 pm, Vigil on the edge of campus

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 original article is available on the Press Release Newswire website:
http://www.prweb.com/releases/2008/10/prweb1499624.htm

Equality Ride to Visit Three Texas Colleges

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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(Dallas, TX) On October 24-29, the third annual Soulforce Equality Ride, a national bus tour to faith-based colleges, will bring a message of inclusion and safety to three area schools: Dallas Baptist University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, and Southwestern Assemblies of God University in Waxahachie. The Equality Ride advocates safe educational settings for all students, including those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT).

The schools’ responses to the Ride demonstrate the diversity of contemporary evangelical cultures. Dallas Baptist University (DBU) is collaborating with the Equality Ride to create a full day of dialogue with faculty, students, and administrators. Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS) has offered the Riders time to make a presentation about faith and fairness. In contrast, Southwestern Assemblies of God University (SAGU) has informed the Equality Riders that they are unwelcome on campus and has refused further communication.

The third annual Equality Ride comes to Texas at a moment when research suggests that young white evangelicals are diverging from previous generations on social justice issues. A September 2008 poll commissioned by Religion and Ethics Newsweekly found that 58% of 18-29 year old white evangelicals support some form of legal recognition of civil unions or marriage for same-sex couples; a quarter (26%) support the full right for same-sex couples to marry.

However, in spite of these indications that significant numbers of 18-29 year olds support equality, more than 200 U.S. colleges and universities have explicit policies that discriminate against LGBT students. The DBU student handbook expressly prohibits "student organizations which are homosexual/bisexual in nature." Southwest Baptist lists " homosexual behavior" as grounds for unspecified disciplinary action. The SAGU student handbook lists "homosexuality" and "lesbianism" as grounds for disciplinary action, including "termination from the university."

"It’s very difficult to learn in an environment where you don’t feel safe," said 22-year-old Jarrett Lucas, Co-director of the Equality Ride. "When students can be punished just because of who they are, it’s very difficult for them to speak up about their quality of life on campus. That’s where we come in. We can speak up for a community where everyone can learn without fear."

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.

Equality Riders invite students at all three schools, as well as members of the Dallas/Fort Worth community, to a community gathering on Saturday the 25th at Reverchon Park in Dallas.
The young adult 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.

PRELIMINARY SCHEDULE FOR WEEK OF 10/20-10/26

Dallas Baptist University
Friday, October 24th, 2008
11:30 am, Press conference outside DBU
12:00 noon, Riders enter campus

DFW/Equality Ride Community Gathering
Saturday, October 25th, 2008
2:00 pm, at Reverchon Park in Dallas

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.

Equality Ride Returns to Liberty U. for 2008 Launch

LGBT Young Adults to Visit Faith-Based Colleges in the South
October 1-November 13, 2008

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SOULFORCE PRESS RELEASE: September 25, 2008
For Immediate Release

Contact: Paige Schilt, 
Media Director
Cell: 512-659-1771
paige@soulforce.org
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(Lynchburg, VA) The 2008 Equality Ride, a youth-organized bus tour to faith-based colleges, will launch with a visit to Liberty University on October 1. Seventeen lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and straight young adults will bring a message of inclusion and safety to the school, which was founded by the late Rev. Dr. Jerry Falwell Sr.

More than 200 U.S. colleges and universities have policies that discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students. At Liberty University, gay and lesbian students are subject to reprimands and disciplinary consequences, including ex-gay conversion counseling and expulsion.

In spite of the school’s policies, the elder Falwell allowed the Equality Riders to attend convocation and speak with students on campus in 2005. However, the Riders were threatened with arrest when they attempted to donate gay-affirming books to the Liberty University library. When the Equality Ride returned in 2006, 24 people were arrested for stepping onto campus to speak with students.

This year, under the leadership of Jerry Falwell Jr., college officials have indicated that they will not work with the Riders to plan opportunities for dialogue and exchange. But if the administration would rather not talk about safety and quality of life for LGBT students, the students themselves are another story.

"We are in contact with Liberty students who have been waiting for the Equality Ride to return. We cannot let them down," said Katie Higgins, Co-director of the Equality Ride. "We bring hope to students who fear expulsion or other sanctions just for being themselves. We tell them that God loves them just as they are, and we speak up for a community where everyone can learn without fear," Higgins continued.

Plans for the visit to Liberty University are still taking shape, but the Riders say they will use creative means to communicate with students and faculty about building inclusive faith communities. On the evening of October 1, First Christian Church of Lynchburg will host a public forum and worship service for the Riders and the community.

Soulforce has a long history with Liberty University and Thomas Road Baptist Church, which was also founded by Falwell. Prior to coming out as a gay man in 1993, Soulforce Founder Rev. Mel White was a ghostwriter for Falwell and other prominent evangelical leaders. Soulforce was founded in 1999, when a group of 200 Soulforce volunteers participated in dialogue about love, faith, and equality with members of the Thomas Road congregation.

"Soulforce will never give up on our fundamentalist brothers and sisters," says White.

At many schools, Equality Riders host public forums, participate in panel discussions, study the Bible, and attend chapel with. The goal is to inspire conversation and empower students, faculty, and administrators to make their school safe and welcoming for 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.

Several things are new on this year’s Ride. The bus will visit more seminaries this year, including a planned stop at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. The Equality Ride will stop in Atlanta, where student groups at Morehouse College and Spelman College will host the Riders on campus. And this year the Equality Riders will reach out to students and community members by organizing opportunities to come together in community service.

2008 Equality Ride Route

Oct. 1 Liberty University Lynchburg, VA
Oct. 6 Columbia International University Columbia, SC
Oct. 9 Morehouse College Atlanta, GA
Oct. 10 Spelman College Atlanta, GA
Oct. 13-14 Palm Beach Atlantic University West Palm Beach, FL
Oct. 17 Heritage Christian University Florence, AL
Oct. 20 Mississippi College Clinton, MS
Oct. 23 Louisiana College Pineville, LA
Oct. 24 Dallas Baptist University Dallas, TX
Oct. 27 Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary Fort Worth, TX
Oct. 29 Southwestern Assemblies of God University Waxahachie, TX
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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Soulforce Releases Route for 2008 Equality Ride

LGBT Young Adults to Visit Faith-Based Colleges in the South
October 2-November 13, 2008

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SOULFORCE PRESS RELEASE: September 9, 2008
For Immediate Release

Contact: Paige Schilt, 
Media Director
Cell: 512-659-1771
paige@soulforce.org
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(Austin, TX) Today Soulforce Q announced the route for Equality Ride 2008, a youth-organized bus tour to faith-based colleges. This fall, 17 lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and straight young adults will bring a message of inclusion and safety to 15 schools throughout the South.

"As young people and students ourselves, we understand that it’s very difficult to learn in an environment where you don’t feel safe," said 22-year-old Jarrett Lucas, Co-director of the Equality Ride. "And students who face harassment or expulsion can’t always speak up for themselves. That’s where we come in. We can speak up for a community where everyone can learn without fear."

More than 200 U.S. colleges and universities have explicit policies that discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students. Some schools without explicit policies nevertheless foster climates where harassment of LGBT students is prevalent. A 2003 survey of 14 American universities found that more than a third of all LGBT undergraduates had experienced harassment in the past year.

Since 2006, the Equality Ride has visited 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.

The colleges’ responses shape the itinerary. The Equality Ride strives to visit a mix of schools that are open to collaboration and schools that are not yet willing to make a place at the table for affirming viewpoints. The 2008 Equality Ride is focused on the South, with stops from Virginia to Oklahoma and from Florida to Kentucky.

Several other things are new on this year’s Ride. The bus will visit more seminaries this year, including a planned stop at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. The Equality Ride will visit historically black colleges for the first time this year, with stops planned at Morehouse College, Spelman College, and Simmons College. And this year the Equality Riders will reach out to students and community members by organizing opportunities to come together in community service.

"We know that young people want to be part of the solution that heals divided communities, churches, and schools," said 26-year-old Katie Higgins, Co-director of the Equality Ride. "We’re reaching out to these schools, because we can’t heal those rifts until everyone has a place at the table."

2008 Equality Ride Route

Oct. 2-3 Liberty University Lynchburg, VA
Oct. 6 Columbia International University Columbia, SC
Oct. 9 Morehouse College Atlanta, GA
Oct. 10 Spelman College Atlanta, GA
Oct. 13-14 Palm Beach Atlantic University West Palm Beach, FL
Oct. 17 Heritage Christian University Florence, AL
Oct. 20 Mississippi College Clinton, MS
Oct. 23 Louisiana College Pineville, LA
Oct. 24 Dallas Baptist University Dallas, TX
Oct. 27 Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary Fort Worth, TX
Oct. 29 Southwestern Assemblies of God University Waxahachie, TX
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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