Equality Ride Connects Faith and Fairness at 2 Baptist Schools

National Tour of Christian Colleges Advocates Safety for Gay and Transgender Students

******************************************
SOULFORCE PRESS RELEASE: October 28, 2008
For Immediate Release
Contact: Caitlin MacIntyre, Equality Ride Media Director
Cell: 612-715-6138
caitlin@equalityride.com
******************************************

(Dallas, TX) — This week, the Soulforce Equality Ride brought unprecedented conversations about faith and fairness to two Baptist institutions: Dallas Baptist University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. The quality of dialogue and exchange at each school demonstrates the diverse and changing nature of contemporary evangelical cultures.

The Equality Ride is a national bus tour to Christian colleges. The 18 to 26-year-old Equality Riders advocate safe educational settings for all students, including those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender.

On Friday, October 24, the Soulforce Q Equality Riders arrived at Dallas Baptist University (DBU) as guests for a day of dialogue and discussion about faith and fairness. During a press conference preceding scheduled events, Dr. J. Blair Blackburn, Executive Vice President of DBU, said that although "DBU’s established beliefs may not coincide with the viewpoints of Soulforce on these issues, we understand anyone’s right to disagree and their desire for an opportunity to discuss." Katie Higgins, Equality Ride Co-director, explained the necessity of such conversations to ensure safety and fairness for all students.

Riders joined DBU faculty and administration for lunch and conversation before presentations to student leadership on campus.

"The students had such great ideas about how to get involved and be advocates for their gay and transgender peers. I hope that some of them will take those ideas and begin to form a support system for LGBT students on campus," said Equality Rider Alex Lundy.

Dialogue with student leaders continued as Riders were able to sit down with them and discuss their ideas and perceptions about faith, sexuality, and gender. Riders briefly shared their stories and then discussed what safe spaces look like for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and how students can facilitate these environments.

In a debriefing session with Equality Riders and DBU administrators, Riders explained their concerns about the DBU policy and discussed ways the campus could be safer. Administration shared their personal experiences and told Riders that the dialogue would continue.

"I think that the administration is genuinely interested in ensuring that gay and transgender students feel safe and fully accepted as members of the DBU community. Hopefully we can work with them in establishing fair and inclusive policies, which will help create a more welcoming campus climate," said Ride Co-director Jarrett Lucas.

In contrast, on Monday October 27th, Equality Riders traveled to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS) for a limited and formal exchange of ideas.

Riders went onto campus at 2:00 PM for a meeting attended by a cross-section of individuals selected by the university, which included students, faculty, staff, and two of the university’s vice presidents. Soulforce Q Equality Riders showed a brief video from the SWBTS website in which President Paige Patterson apologizes to an African American alumnus for the oppression he faced as a student in 1943 when Southwestern was still racially segregated.

Following this video, Equality Riders shared two letters from gay SWBTS alumni detailing their experiences and the pain of being unable to live authentically on a campus that punishes gay and lesbian students. One writer revealed that "stress and suicidal thoughts forced [him] to drop out." In conclusion, the Riders reflected on the lack of condemnation from Jesus regarding gay and transgender people.

Equality Rider Danielle Cooper of Newark, New Jersey explains, "We had twenty five minutes and during that time we wanted the representatives from Southwestern Baptist to see our humanity. We wanted them to understand the pain and oppression lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people face as a result of beliefs that Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary holds. How long will we have to wait until President Patterson recognizes that the convention is wrong on the issue of gay and transgender individuals as well?"

Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary began by introducing a community member who was not officially affiliated with Southwestern but was a "friend" of SWBTS. He told those present that he was once a gay man but was no longer considered himself a part of the community. He shared his belief that "Jesus Christ doesn’t speak tolerance. It’s a very narrow-minded Word." Following this personal story, a faculty member in the Ethics department rehearsed the Biblical passages that are often used to condemn gay and lesbian people.

Afterwards Riders and community supporters stood in silent vigil outside of the University for two hours. Some Equality Riders stood silently in a "glass closet" constructed as a visual reminder of LGBT students who are present on campus but unable to be heard. Zak Rittenhouse, one of the Riders who stood vigil within the "glass closet" reflected on his own experience: "While in the glass closet, I was reminded once again of what it was like to be silenced and to live in fear."

Riders remained in vigil until 5:30 PM along W. Seminary Drive to offer a visible symbol of hope to LGBT students as well as to demonstrate to the SWBTS community at large the pain of being gay or transgender on the campus.

Katie Higgins, Equality Ride co-director explains that, "Although the situations at Dallas Baptist University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary were quite different, both were certainly important first steps in creating a dialogue about faith and fairness on these campuses. I hope that the schools will continue to challenge their perceptions and work towards becoming safer learning environments for all students."

The Equality Ride bus is on the road through November 13, 2008. Future stops include:

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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Fort Worth Star-Telegram, "Gay activists conduct vigil at Fort Worth’s Baptist seminary"

Gay activists conduct vigil at Fort Worth’s Baptist seminary

Tuesday, October 28, 2008
By Terry Lee Goodrich, The Fort Worth Star-Telegram

FORT WORTH — About 30 gay-rights advocates lined Seminary Drive outside Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s entrance Monday after a private meeting with seminary representatives, saying they hope that the dialogue was a first step in wiping out discrimination.

Two members of the Soulforce Q Equality Ride, which has been on a national bus tour of faith-based colleges and seminaries this month, stood with their mouths taped inside a clear plastic structure they held upright.

The structure was symbolic of a "glass closet," said Caitlyn MacIntyre, director of the 17-person group. She said some gay and lesbian students at Southwestern used that term to describe their feeling that "they cannot speak about who they are."

The riders were gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual and straight people.

Across Seminary Drive, a few community members held signs to show their opposition to homosexuality.

Bill Bool of Fort Worth said the "sole issue is Christ and that we’ve all sinned. God never intended homosexuality.  . . . If a person receives Christ, there is going to be a change."

During the hourlong private meeting, seminary representatives used Scripture to explain their stance on faith and sexuality, Southwestern officials said.

"There’s a difference of opinion, but it was a cordial and kind dialogue," said Thomas White, the seminary’s vice president for student services and communications.

During Soulforce’s presentation, they likened the seminary’s stance against homosexuality to its discrimination against African-Americans in the 1940s and 1950s. In 2004, Southwestern President Paige Patterson apologized at a commencement to a 100-year-old black man and awarded him an overdue master’s degree he had earned at Southwestern decades ago.

During the private meeting, MacIntyre said, Soulforce members asked, "How long do we have to wait for it to be made right for us?"

Another gay-rights advocate at the meeting was Lauren Parke, a graduate of Texas Lutheran University in Seguin.

"I went to the front of the room and opened my Bible and said I’d like to share the words of Jesus" about homosexuality, she said. She flipped through the pages of the four Gospels in silence for seven minutes because, she said, Jesus said nothing against homosexuality.

Among those who turned out to support the riders was Liz Cumpton, 20, a religion major at Texas Wesleyan University in Fort Worth.

"This is very important to me, because I’m planning on going into the ministry for the Methodist church, and I’ve had friends kicked out of faith-based universities based on their sexuality," she said.

White said that when students apply for admission to the seminary, they sign a document that they will abide by the seminary’s code of conduct.

He said that the Bible condemns all forms of sexual immorality — including adultery, lust and homosexuality — but that it also offers hope of forgiveness to those willing to repent.

Seminary representatives, among them students, faculty, staff and administrators, "acted out our beliefs by considerately sharing the Gospel," but "our position remains unchanged," White said.

The original article is available on The Fort Worth Star-Telegram website:
http://www.star-telegram.com/metro_news/story/1001185.html

Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

Name: Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
Location: Fort Worth, TX
Religious Affiliation: Baptist
Enrollment: 3,567
Website: http://www.swbts.edu/
Accreditation:
Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools

Concerning GLBT Equality:

The Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary 2008-9 Student Handbook contains the following:

Ethical Conduct

General Information

3. The institution may take disciplinary action should any ethical standard of an academic and/ or personal nature be violated. In the case of academic dishonesty (see item 2 above) breaches of this standard will result in the failure of assignment along further possible disciplinary measures as outlined below. The institution recognizes a professor’s authority to undertake disciplinary actions concerning any of his students in the context of his classroom. Generally, violations of the institution’s ethical conduct policy include, but not limited to:

4. Heterosexual misconduct, homosexual behavior, or any other form of sexual misconduct.

The entire policy can be seen in the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary Student Affairs 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
******************************************

(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

******************************************
SOULFORCE PRESS RELEASE: September 25, 2008
For Immediate Release

Contact: Paige Schilt, 
Media Director
Cell: 512-659-1771
paige@soulforce.org
******************************************

(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

******************************************
SOULFORCE PRESS RELEASE: September 9, 2008
For Immediate Release

Contact: Paige Schilt, 
Media Director
Cell: 512-659-1771
paige@soulforce.org
******************************************

(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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