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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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

"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
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(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.

Riders Arrested Attempting to Attend Chapel at Southwestern Assemblies of God Univ.

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

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SOULFORCE PRESS RELEASE: October 29, 2008
For Immediate Release
Contact: Caitlin MacIntyre, Equality Ride Media Director
Cell: 612-715-6138
caitlin@equalityride.com
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(Waxahachie, TX) — Today, Southwestern Assemblies of God University (SAGU) pressed trespassing charges against three young adults who entered the campus to begin a dialogue about faith and fairness for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students. The young people were members of the Equality Ride, a national bus tour that promotes safety and inclusion for all students on faith-based campuses.

Upon arriving at SAGU, all 16 of the Equality Riders tried to attend chapel services on campus. However, they were stopped by security who told Riders that they would not be allowed to participate in worship. Riders were escorted by guards to a parking lot on the periphery of campus. As Riders got off the bus, they were promptly met by a campus spokesperson who provided an official warning not to come onto the campus property. Once more, Equality Riders expressed their desire to join students in chapel, and were told that was not possible. Three Equality Riders, all of whom identify as Christian, moved forward anyway and were summarily arrested. The three Riders arrested were Manny Lampon, 22, of New York, NY; Zak Rittenhouse, 21, of Frankfurt, OH; and Nicholas Rocco DeFinis, 22, of Philadelphia, PA.

Equality Riders remained at the edge of campus in silent vigil until the Dean of Students, Scott Camp, began to address them. He was soon joined by student leadership and some university staff. Camp led the group in prayer in which he expressed the hope that "the love of Christ would be felt in this circle." In actuality, Equality Riders were forced to remain standing along the boundary that administrators had created while members of the SAGU community gathered freely on the other side.

"It was important for us to acknowledge that there had been a clear line drawn, one that divided Riders from Southwestern representatives. Our hope was that for one day we could erase that line and come together for a genuine and transformational exchange," said Jarrett Lucas, Co-director of the Equality Ride.

Camp indicated that he could understand the feelings of exclusion experienced by Equality Riders, but insisted there was no alternative to the setup, repeatedly saying, "This is where we’re at." Unfortunately, very soon after the conversation had begun Riders were told that it was time to wind down. Then, most of the people from SAGU walked away, leaving Riders outside.

Riders will stand vigil throughout the day on Sycamore Street in hopes of continuing dialogue with students. In addition, they are trying to organize an off-campus event where students can feel comfortable discussing issues that affect lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.

"It’s sad to see that Southwestern Assemblies of God University did not welcome us as other schools here in Texas have. In our experience we’ve seen the value of open discourse and hope that in the future SAGU will embrace the opportunity to allow an affirming voice on campus," shared Katie Higgins, Co-director of the Equality Ride. The Riders recently met with faculty and students at Dallas Baptist University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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

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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Equality Ride Connects Faith and Fairness at 2 Baptist Schools

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

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SOULFORCE PRESS RELEASE: October 28, 2008
For Immediate Release
Contact: Caitlin MacIntyre, Equality Ride Media Director
Cell: 612-715-6138
caitlin@equalityride.com
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(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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The Clarion-Ledger, "Gay rights activists arrested again at MC"

Gay rights activists arrested again at MC

Monday, October 20, 2008
By Ruth Ingram, Clinton News

Jackson, MS—If the gay rights group Soulforce created a big splash during its visit to Mississippi College in early 2007, its return visit Monday produced a ripple by comparison.

Absent was the Clinton Police Department’s SWAT team, its large communications truck and a heavy presence of both Clinton police and security officers employed by the private Baptist college.

Also absent was Soulforce’s brightly painted charter bus that entered campus in 2007 as part of an escorted motorcade. Instead, the 16 “Equality Ride” members who staged a vigil and protest were dropped off and the bus parked elsewhere.

The purpose of the visit, however, was unchanged. Members of Soulforce, a Lynchburg, Va., organization that advocates “relentless nonviolent resistance” to get its message across, wanted to call attention to MC’s policies against homosexual behavior.

“We want to provide hope and safety for the students here, and to tell them we love you just the way you are,” said Caitlin MacIntyre, 19, a junior at Rice University in Houston and the tour’s media director.

Soulforce members who take part in the group’s annual tour of Christian colleges arrive on campus, hold vigils on public sidewalks and streets, then designate several members to walk onto the college’s private grounds, where they are arrested for trespassing. Last year, four members were charged with trespassing at MC.

On Monday, Soulforce riders MacIntyre and Alex Lundy, 21, of Syosset, N.Y., linked arms with MC students Jonathan Parker, 20, of Louisville and Mary Sue Strong, 19, of Jackson and strode onto the grassy area leading to Nelson Hall, the administration building.

Two of a half-dozen or so MC security officers met them quickly, told them that they would be charged with trespassing, and asked MacIntyre and Lundy to follow them to the alumni building.

There, Clinton police were to load them into a van for booking.

MacIntyre and Lundy held hands and followed police in contrast to last year, when protesters were immediately handcuffed when they stepped on MC property.

Strong and Parker were left behind to watch the two women depart.

“The school has done what it can to silence the persecution on this campus,” said Strong, who with Parker describes herself as a “straight ally” of homosexual students.

“It’s not OK to turn a blind eye to what goes on here,” she said. “There is hatred on campus.”

Parker said he was a little scared to defy the administration and walk in solidarity with the Soulforce riders.

“My heart was kind of shaking a little bit,” he said. “But I wanted to stand up for what I believe in. There is no room for hatred on the campus of MC.”

Before the arrests, a group of about 50 students gathered on school property across from more than a dozen Soulforce riders and another dozen students standing with them on the sidewalk in solidarity.

Soulforce member Zak Rittenhouse, a sophomore at Ohio University, stood in the middle of the line they formed, reading an anonymous letter from a student who said he must live “in the closet” at MC.

Some MC students say they defend Soulforce’s right to speak out, but disagree with their message.

“A lot of them stated that ‘We are simply people.’ I agree with that,” said sophomore kinesiology major James Turcotte, 19, of Clinton. His father is Jim Turcotte, MC’s vice president of enrollment management and student affairs.

“I will accept a homosexual person, but I do not agree with their values,” the younger Turcotte said. “In the Bible, Sodom and Gommorah were wiped off the face of this planet because of homosexuality.”

His friend Josh Long, 23, of Clinton took in a few minutes of the protest on his way to his next class.

“It was interesting, to say the least,” Long said. “Even though they were told they were not welcome and if they stepped foot on the grounds they would get arrested, they still did it.”

MC released a statement from Eric Pratt, the college’s vice president for Christian development.

"Soulforce continues to undermine traditional Biblical positions. It is clear that Soulforce is not tolerant of individuals or institutions that hold a conservative, evangelical position,” he said.

“We will not allow any group to force their agenda upon us.”

The original article is available on the Clarion-Ledger website:
http://www.clarionledger.com/article/D7/20081020/NEWS/81020002/1001

‘N Touch News Network, "Equality Ride Faces Vandalism and Intimidation"

Equality Ride Faces Vandalism and Intimidation

Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Uncredited, ‘N Touch News Network

West Palm Beach, FL—Just hours ago, sixteen young adults arrived at the DeSantis Family Chapel on the campus of  Palm Beach Atlantic University. The Equality Riders were immediately restricted to the far side of the sidewalk and were greeted by an organized group of parents. During the conversations that ensued, a few students did join the group and one came out as a lesbian who is in her first year at PBAU. She was able to speak firsthand about the lack of safety that is provided for her as a lesbian on campus, which affirms Soulforce Q’s reasons for visiting the Christian school.

At 11:00 am EST, the sixteen Equality Riders walked to the DeSantis Family Chapel doors and were confronted by city police at the doors. School officials read a statement that barred the young adults from participating in the worship service with the students with whom they had been talking. A similar statement followed from the West Palm Beach Police Department. Inspired by the conversations that they had with students during a picnic hosted by the Equality Ride on Sunday, the Riders moved forward with good faith that they would be allowed into Chapel.

As ten of the Riders were turned away, six remained and were arrested, one by one. Those arrested were Jarrett Lucas, 22, from Philadelphia, Danielle Cooper, 19, from Maplewood, NJ, Lauren Parke, 25, from Seattle, Enzi Tanner, 24, from Minneapolis, Nicholas Rocco DeFinis, 22, from Lansdale, PA, and Zak Rittenhouse, 21, from Frankfort, OH. Students looked on as the young adults were placed in handcuffs and moved into a police van.

The remaining Equality Riders are still standing vigil and speaking with students on the corner of S. Olive Avenue and Okeechobee Road. They will remain there until 4:00 pm EST. The arrested young adults are scheduled to go before a magistrate Tuesday morning.

Today’s visit to PBAU comes after a night of harassment for participants of the Equality Ride. Sunday evening, the glass door of the bus was bashed in with a hard object. Two panes of glass were shattered and small portions of the vinyl wrap were scratched off. A police report of the incident was filed.

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 original article is available on the ‘N Touch News website:
http://www.ntouchaz.com/artman2/publish/index/EQUALITY_RIDE_FACES_VANDALISM_AND_INTIMIDATION.shtml

The Advocate, "Six Arrested on Equality Ride"

Six Arrested on Equality Ride

Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Michelle Garcia, The Advocate

Six young adults on an LGBT-awareness campaign were arrested when they attempted to walk into the DeSantis Family Chapel at Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach, Fla., on Monday.

College administrators allowed Equality Riders from the religious tolerance organization Soulforce to visit campus for a private meeting at 9:30 a.m., but riders said the conditions were too restrictive. A group of parents greeted the riders, who were relegated to a part of the sidewalk on campus near the chapel. Some students later joined the group, and one female student came out as a lesbian, according to a press release. She told the group that the university lacks specific safeguards for LGBT students.

Six of the 16 riders on the trip attempted to enter 11 a.m. chapel service, but university police stopped them from entering.

"You are an unwanted guest," campus security director Terry Wheeler said to riders, according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. "We have asked the police department to enforce the trespassing law,"

The arrested riders were Jarrett Lucas, Enzi Tanner, Nicholas Rocco DeFinis, Lauren Parke, Zak Rittenhouse, and Danielle Cooper, ranging in age from 19 to 25. They will face a magistrate Tuesday morning.

The remaining Equality Riders held a vigil near the college through Monday afternoon.

The arrests took place after the Equality Ride bus was damaged Sunday night. The windows were smashed in, shattering two panes of glass, and small portions of the vinyl wrap were also scratched off.

The original article is available on The Advocate website:
http://www.advocate.com/news_detail_ektid63651.asp

The Associated Press, "6 people arrested on university campus"

6 people arrested on university campus

Monday, October 13, 2008
Uncredited, The Associated Press

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Six members of a gay rights group were arrested in West Palm Beach after they tried to attend a chapel service at Palm Beach Atlantic University.

The students, who are members of a group called Soulforce Q, were arrested Monday for trespassing. University officials had wanted to meet with the group privately, but group members refused the university’s request to meet with select students and faculty. They said it would defeat their mission of reaching gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students.

The group reported that this weekend two panes of glass on the bus they were traveling in were smashed.

Soulforce is touring 15 schools in the South. Palm Beach Atlantic is the only Florida school on the tour.

The original article is available on the Miami Herald website:
http://www.miamiherald.com/news/florida/AP/story/724609.html

365 Gay News, "Gay rights activists arrested at Florida college"

Gay rights activists arrested at Florida college

Monday, October 13, 2008
By 365gay Newscenter Staff, 365 Gay News

West Palm Beach, Florida—Six members of the nondenominational Soulforce Equality Ride were arrested Monday when they attempted to enter the chapel at Palm Beach Atlantic University.

More than a dozen LGBT young adults and their allies are visiting 15 Christian schools throughout the South to engage students in a discussion on gay inclusion.

The six “riders” ignored warnings they would be arrested if they did not leave the campus.  They offered no resistance as police led them away.

This is the third year for the Equality Ride. Unlike previous years, “riders” were not obstructed as they spoke with students at Liberty University and Columbia International.

Initially, Palm Beach Atlantic officials completely refused to allow Equality Riders on campus. The school then suggested a limited meeting.

President David W. Clark’s office told the group that “riders” would be escorted onto campus for a two hour meeting with a pre-selected group of students and staff in an undisclosed location.

It was rejected by Equality Ride.

“Unfortunately, this format is not conducive to reaching out to the Palm Beach Atlantic community in the spirit of open dialogue. Additionally, the LGBT students who need to hear the Ride’s message of love and affirmation would not be reached in this format,” the group said in a statement.

More than 200 U.S. colleges and universities have explicit policies that discriminate against LGBT students.

At Palm Beach Atlantic the student handbook forbids, “sexual activity that is inconsistent with biblical teaching, such as: … homosexual behavior.”

Violators can be punished at the discretion of the university administration.

“[This leads] to a climate of fear and uncertainty for gay and transgender students,” Equality Ride said.

In a statement the university said it “does not ban enrollment of students with same sex orientation. Although Palm Beach Atlantic welcomes students from various backgrounds, the University does require that all students adhere to the behavioral standards outlined in the student handbook, which prohibits activities that are inconsistent with the teachings of the Bible.”

As the six protesters were being removed from the campus by police and charged with trespassing, other members of the group held hands and prayed.

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.

But the bus tour often has been met with opposition from schools and resulted in the arrests of some Soulforce members.

Two members of the group were arrested last year at the headquarters of Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs.

About 20 demonstrators held a vigil outside the headquarters, quoting from some of the FOF statements that homosexuality is “choice” and can be “cured,” that homosexuality is harmful, that gays live shorter lives, and that same-sex relationships threaten opposite-sex marriage.

Following the vigil, two protesters entered the headquarters building. Chris Hubble and Leigh Lyon, armed with two dozen yellow roses for Dobson and copies of the Soulforce booklet “A False Focus on My Family” and a DVD letter titled “Dear Dr. Dobson,” asked to see the conservative Christian leader.

When they refused to leave they were arrested.

Ten other riders were arrested on trespassing charges after they entered the Bethany Lutheran College campus in Mankato, Minn.

In 2006, 24 Soulforce demonstrators were arrested at a gay “die-in” at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. Three others were arrested at Bob Jones University in South Carolina, other were arrested at Covenant College in Georgia, University of Cumberlands and at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kentucky,

Soulforce members also were arrested at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University in Lynchburg, West Point, the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma; and Regent University in Virginia Beach, Virginia which is affiliated with Christian Broadcaster Pat Robertson.

The organizers of the Equality Ride said they 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 original article is available on the 365 Gay News website:
http://www.365gay.com/news/gay-rights-activists-arrested-at-florida-college/