Equality Riders Denied Entry to Baptist Church in Jackson, TN

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

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SOULFORCE PRESS RELEASE: November 12, 2008
For Immediate Release
Contact: Caitlin MacIntyre, Equality Ride Media Director
Cell: 612-715-6138
caitlin@equalityride.com
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(Jackson, TN) — On Tuesday night, members of the Soulforce Q Equality Ride, a youth organized bus tour that travels to faith based colleges with a message of inclusion for gay and transgender students, were barred from entering a public concert at First Baptist Church. The event was a showcase by several Union University choral groups, and Riders planned simply to attend and listen. Upon their arrival, Riders were met by police, Union security, and the pastor of First Baptist Church who told them they were unwelcome and had to get back on the bus. When asked why they could not attend the concert they were told they were unwanted and that the church had the right to prevent them from attending.

"I was shocked that a church would prevent us from coming to a concert, especially when we had been invited by some of the performers. It was painful and disheartening to see that a Christ-centered community would not even allow us to enter its doors," said Nick Savelli, an Equality Rider from Tampa, FL.

After being turned away from the church, Riders decided to stand vigil on the public right of way adjacent to the road. However, as they gathered, Jackson police officers approached them once again, telling them that they would not be allowed to stand there and that if they persisted they could face arrest. Equality Ride co-directors spoke to the officers about their right to assemble on the strip of land that was public. Nevertheless, the officers told them that the church did not want them there and they would be arrested if they did not comply.

"The fact that we were being denied the right to stand on a public property because First Baptist didn’t want us there was a clear breach of our right to assemble. We wanted to stand vigil in front of the church because we had been denied entrance, yet even when we stood out in the cold on the roadside we were turned away and lied to by Jackson police," explained Katie Higgins, Soulforce Q Equality Ride Co-director.

Once more the Riders relocated to a grassy plot next to one of the entrances and were finally told they could remain there. Riders held a candlelight vigil, singing songs and reflecting upon their time in Jackson, TN. "As people went into the concert and as they left, we wanted them to realize that we were absent because the church had closed its doors to us," Nicholas Rocco DeFinis, a Rider from Philadelphia, PA said. Riders stayed on site until everyone attending the event had left.

Today the Riders will leave Jackson and travel to Simmons College of Kentucky in Louisville. The three Riders arrested on Monday were originally sentenced to twenty-four hours of community service in a park adjacent to Union University. However, Union officials said they did not want Equality Riders to remain in Jackson and be near the University for the next three days. So, they asked the judge to rescind the sentence and allow all of the Riders to continue on to their last stop.

"We are pleased that our entire group will be united for our final stop. Still, there are many conversations that need to happen here in Jackson, and we hope to return at some point to contribute to those. Meanwhile, it is our sincere hope that Union University will embody Christ and embrace its lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students," Jarrett Lucas, Co-director of the Ride explained.

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.

Jackson Sun, "Three arrested at peaceful demonstration at Union"

Three arrested at peaceful demonstration at Union

Tuesday, November 11, 2008
By Ned B. Hunter, The Jackson Sun

Three members of the Soulforce Q Equality Ride team were arrested Monday during a peaceful demonstration on the campus of Union University.

The group was protesting university policy regarding homosexual, bisexual and transgender students.

Manuel Lampon of New York, NY; Zakariah Rittenhouse of Frankfort, Ohio and Jarrett Lucas of Minneapolis, Minn. were arrested by police.

They were charged with criminal trespassing, said Jeff Mueller, an attorney representing the men. They were released after posting $1,000 bond, he said.

Criminal trespassing is a Class C misdemeanor carrying a possible penalty of up to 30 days in jail and up to a $50 fine, Mueller said.

A university news release stated that the three were arrested after they "chose to disrespect Union’s private property rights and advance into an area that had been described several times as off limits to the riders."

Union University officials had allowed the protesters to use Luther Hall, a building at the end of Country Club Lane, to assemble and meet with students.

A private university donor volunteered to pay for meals the group might need during its two-day visit to the campus, which ends today.

Soulforce Q members assembled at the building before marching onto campus. They refused the offer of food.

Some students went to Luther Hall to speak with the protesters. But Caitlin MacIntyre, media director for Soulforce, said protesters tried to enter Union’s grounds because Luther Hall was too far from the main campus.

"We were very far removed from the students and unable to react to them," MacIntyre said.

Visit jacksonsun.com and share your thoughts.

The original article is available on the Jackson Sun website:
http://www.jacksonsun.com/article/20081111/NEWS01/811110310

"Locked Out of My Own School:" Equality Ride Visits Union University

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

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SOULFORCE PRESS RELEASE: November 10, 2008
For Immediate Release
Contact: Caitlin MacIntyre, Equality Ride Media Director
Cell: 612-715-6138
caitlin@equalityride.com
******************************************

(Jackson, TN) — Today the Soulforce Q Equality Ride visited Union University in hopes of engaging students and faculty in dialogue about faith and fairness for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students. Upon their arrival, Equality Riders were informed by campus officials that they would be permitted to stay at Luther Hall, a building across the street from the main campus, as well as in a limited space at the south entrance of Union. Unfortunately, both of these areas were far removed from student activity and were not conducive to the open dialogue to which the Equality Ride is committed.

"We were placed in areas that severely limited our interaction with students. The goal of the Equality Ride is always to communicate with as many students as possible about faith and the safety of their lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender peers. Therefore, it was absolutely necessary for us to move onto campus and meet students where they are to have this valuable conversation," explains Katie Higgins, Equality Ride Co-director.

When Equality Riders, led by Rachel Watson, a Union graduate, attempted to move further onto campus towards the student center and other more populated areas of Union, they were turned away by police and campus security. "It was heartbreaking to have my Alma Mater turn me away from campus. I wanted to talk to students about my life and the pain I experienced as a lesbian on Union Univertsity’s campus, but instead I was locked out of my own school," Watson says.

Rachel Watson, along with the rest of the Equality Riders, stepped back as instructed by officers, but three Riders who were determined to reach students for discussion continued onto campus and were arrested. The Riders arrested were Zak Rittenhouse of Frankfort, OH; Manny Lampon of New York, NY; and Jarrett Lucas of Minneapolis, MN.

The remaining Equality Riders will stand vigil until 4:00 PM at four of Union University’s entrances hoping to speak with students and provide an affirming viewpoint for gay and transgender people. The Equality Riders will return to Union University again tomorrow in hopes of furthering the discussion about faith and fairness for all people.

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.

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.

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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.

Associated Press, "Equality riders arrested at Union University"

Equality riders arrested at Union University

Monday, November 10, 2008
Uncredited, The Associated Press

JACKSON, Tenn. (AP) — Three people were arrested Monday while trying to speak to Union University students about equality for gay and transgender students.

The Soulforce Q Equality Riders, a social justice organization that visits colleges to encourage discussions on the oppression of gays, included several Union University students.

Officials at the Christian-centered school instructed the equality riders to stay at a building across the street from the main campus and in a limited area at its south entrance Monday.

When demonstrators tried to move further into campus toward the student center, police turned them away.

Zak Rittenhouse, Manny Lampon and Jarrett Lucas continued into campus and were arrested and charged with criminal trespassing.

University officials said in a written statement the university gave the group an area in Luther Hall, a private donor offered meals and administrators encouraged faculty and students to "engage in informal discussions" with the group in the designated area.

"Although Union University cannot affirm this group’s message, the university leadership made an attempt to offer dialog and Christian hospitality to Equality Riders," the statement says. "It is regrettable that the leadership of Soulforce responded by rejecting these offers."

The group wrote in a news release it will return to campus Tuesday to further the discussion on equality for all regardless of sexual orientation.

The original article is available on the WTVC News Channel 9 website:
http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/T/TN_EQUALITY_RIDERS_TNOL-?SITE=WTVCTV&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT

Riders Arrested at Central Baptist College in Arkansas

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

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SOULFORCE PRESS RELEASE: November 4, 2008
For Immediate Release
Contact: Caitlin MacIntyre, Equality Ride Media Director
Cell: 612-715-6138
caitlin@equalityride.com
******************************************

(Conway, AR) — Yesterday, the Equality Ride, a youth-organized bus tour that travels to faith-based universities to create a dialogue about faith and fairness for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students, visited Central Baptist College. Upon their arrival, Riders were met by President Kimbrow, who informed Riders that they were not permitted onto campus and that they would be arrested for trespassing if they proceeded. Riders remained in vigil outside of CBC property as members of the community joined them in front of the school.

At 11:00, four Riders who hoped to speak to the students who were gathered on campus property were arrested for trespassing. The Riders were Lauren Parke of Seattle, WA; Alex Lundy of Syosset, NY; Katie Higgins of Minneapolis, MN; and Enzi Tanner of Minneapolis, MN. They were released this afternoon after posting bail.

"It is unfortunate that the school chose to deny us the opportunity to create dialogue on campus. We feel that the message of safety and inclusion for all students, including those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender is too important to be limited by property lines," Alex Lundy, one of the arrested Riders and the organizer of the Central Baptist stop explains.

Following the arrests, students started approaching the Equality Riders to begin discussions. Numerous students remained in conversations with Riders about religion, gender, and sexuality for the remainder of the day. The Equality Riders were joined by students from nearby Hendrix College and by Arkansas residents Bob and Mary Lou Wallner, who are featured in the film For the Bible Tells Me So.

"We tried to get students to understand our shared humanity and realize the oppression and pain that students on their campus are facing because of the policies and beliefs of Central Baptist College. Through building relationships, we hope to create an environment of discussion that continues after the Equality Ride has left campus," says Katie Higgins, Equality Ride co-director.

The Equality Ride plans to return to campus on Friday, when the Baptist Missionionary Association will be meeting on campus, to have a vigil at Central Baptist in hopes of engaging some leadership in the organization about the damaging effects of religious oppression.

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

Nov. 5 Ouachita Baptist University Arkadelphia, 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.com.

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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
******************************************

(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
******************************************

(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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2008 Equality Ride Route: Union University

Union UniversityThe Equality Ride stop at Union University is November 10-11, 2008.

The Equality Rider organizing the stop at Union University is Rachel Watson.

Rachel Watson Rachel Watson
rachel@equalityride.com

If you are a student at Union University, an alum of Union University, or a concerned citizen in the Jackson, Tennessee area and would like to help with the Soulforce Q Equality Ride’s visit to Union University, please register below.

Register to help with the 2008 Equality Ride’s stop at Union University