Equality Ride Bus Rolls to a Stop, But Change Keeps Coming

Third Annual Tour of Christian Colleges Empowers LGBT Students
$25,000 Still Needed

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SOULFORCE MEDIA ADVISORY: November 20, 2008
For Immediate Release

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

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(Laurel, MD) The third annual Soulforce Q Equality Ride is coming to a close this week with a de-briefing in Laurel, Maryland. For the past six weeks, these extraordinary lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT), and straight young adults have brought their message of inclusion and safety to 15 faith-based schools throughout the South.

Although the bus tour has ended, the work of fostering safe learning environments for LGBT students is just beginning. Students and faculty, empowered by the Equality Ride, will now take on the work of organizing gay/straight alliances and safe spaces for LGBT students. Some will advocate for the re-examination of antigay policies that are inconsistent with Christian principles. The Equality Riders will stay in touch and provide on-going guidance and support.

Since 2006, the Equality Ride has visited 65 schools, hosting public forums, participating in panel discussions, and taking part in worship services and Bible studies. Often, the Equality Riders are the first LGBT-affirming voices to be heard on campuses with official policies that discriminate against gay and transgender students.

The impact of the Equality Ride on individual lives is immeasurable, but there are some measurable indicators of the Ride’s success. Since the project’s inception, Riders have contributed to:

  • 17 new or revived gay/straight alliances
  • 6 new faculty-led safe spaces
  • 2 positive policy changes (at Samford University and Brigham Young University)

Highlights and Lowpoints of the Third Annual Equality Ride

September 23, 2008: The Soulforce issues an emergency appeal for donations to get the bus on the road despite difficult economic times.

October 1, 2008: Liberty University, founded by Rev. Jerry Falwell, opens the campus for free discussions between Equality Riders and Liberty students.

October 10-11, 2008: Students and administrators at Morehouse College and Spelman College collaborate with Equality Riders to create 2-days of LGBT-affirming programming. These successful events mark the Equality Ride’s first visits to historically black colleges.

October 12, 2008: The Equality Ride bus is vandalized in West Palm Beach, Florida. Bus driver Dondi Penn, a straight ally, is targeted with homophobic slurs.

October 24, 2008: The Equality Ride and Dallas Baptist University hold a joint press conference before an unprecedented day of discussions with faculty, administrators, and students about safety for LGBT students.

November 11, 2008: Equality Riders are physically barred from a public concert at First Baptist Church in Jackson, Tennessee.

November 14, 2008: The Equality Ride bus rolls to a stop in Laurel, Maryland for a week of debriefing and follow-up with schools from the route. Although the official part of the Ride is over, the Riders must still raise $25,000 to cover the bills for this important work.

"This year, and every year, the Equality Ride’s greatest impact is in the one-on-one connections we make, both on and off the bus," said Jarrett Lucas, Equality Ride Co-director. "Building those relationships pushes us to challenge misinformation about our differences and question prejudices. Then we leave the Ride and manifest those lessons in our everyday lives. That empowerment is the heartbeat of social justice. That empowerment is our success."

To interview an Equality Rider from your city or state about the experience of the 2008 Ride, contact Paige Schilt, Soulforce Media Director, or visit our "Meet the Riders" page: https://soulforceactionarchives.org/2008riders

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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Morehouse and Spelman to Host Equality Ride

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SOULFORCE PRESS RELEASE: October 3, 2008
For Immediate Release

Contact: Caitlin MacIntyre, 
Equality Ride Media Director
Cell: 612-715-6138 Email: caitlin@equalityride.com
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(Atlanta, GA) Morehouse College and Spelman College are preparing to welcome the 2008 Equality Ride, a youth-organized bus tour to faith-based colleges, on October 9 and 10. Students and administrators at both schools will meet with the young adult Equality Riders to talk about fostering a campus culture that celebrates and affirms lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students.

"We acknowledge the strides Morehouse and Spelman have taken to ensure that gay students are safe, and we hope to continue that work by creating spaces where gay and transgender students feel valued and welcome," says Jarrett Lucas, Equality Ride Co-director.

"Morehouse and Spelman are leaders in the historically black college community, and we believe our collaboration with them will inspire other schools to take an active role in supporting their LGBT students," Lucas continued.

Since 2006, the Equality Ride has visited 50 colleges with policies that silence or discriminate against LGBT students. In contrast to those schools, Spelman College includes sexual orientation in its official non-discrimination policy, and Morehouse students organized a week of anti-homophobia events last spring. In spite of those strides, students at the schools reached out to the Equality Ride.

Keara Watkins is the Vice President of Afrekete, Spelman’s LGBT student group, and a recipient of a Point Foundation scholarship. Watkins first learned about the Equality Ride when she met fellow Point Scholar Brandon Kneefel, who participated in the 2007 Equality Ride.

"I want the Equality Ride to come to Spelman because the social climate needs to change, and I think the visit will encourage that change," said Watkins. "Our student body is not completely represented or protected because of a lack of awareness about and solidarity with LGBT students."

Danielle Cooper, one of the 2008 Equality Riders and organizer of the Morehouse and Spelman visits, can relate. Cooper initially attended Howard University, a historically black college in Washington, DC. "The euphoric feeling of being a part of something great disappeared as I began to better understand the social rules that guided the campus," says Cooper, who identifies as a lesbian. "Although there are no discriminatory policies, it was commonly understood that LGBT people could be treated differently, looked over, and forced into rigid stereotypes."

Michael Brewer, Vice President of SafeSpace, an LGBT student group at Morehouse College, points to representation and visibility as keys to transforming the campus climate: "We have done a lot of work, not only to make this institution comfortable for gay and queer students, but also to cement our collective life experience in the canon of black culture."

"It’s a beautiful thing when others from across the nation can come and help us champion that vision through the noble principles of faith and nonviolence, which were brought together by our distinguished Morehouse brother, Dr. Martin Luther King, and remain at the heart of black America’s liberation ethos," says Brewer of the Equality Ride visit.

For the visits to Morehouse and Spelman, Cooper and other Equality Riders are collaborating with Student Affairs officers to plan campus conversations about affirming LGBT students and celebrating sexual and gender diversity in African American history.

On Thursday, October 9, Jasmine’s Cafe on the Morehouse College campus will host an open-mic poetry reading featuring the stories of LGBT students. Spelman College students and members of the Atlanta community are welcome to attend.

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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