Equality Riders Inspire Gay Students at Pepperdine University

National Tour of Gay Youth to End Religion-Based Discrimination on Christian Campuses

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SOULFORCE PRESS RELEASE: March 29, 2007
For Immediate Release
Contact: Brandon Kneefel, West Bus Media Director
Cell: 612-715-6138, brandon@equalityride.com
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(Malibu, CA) — The Soulforce Equality Ride spent two days at Pepperdine University sitting in on lectures, leading presentations, sparking dialogue, visiting the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, and reaching out to the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) community at Pepperdine to address discriminatory policies against LGBT people on campus.

The Equality Riders headed to Pepperdine for a welcomed dialogue regarding faith and gays following the arrest of an Equality Rider and his mother at Brigham Young University for attempting to delivery a list of BYU students’ concerns to the administration. Pepperdine has discriminatory doctrines and policies that harm LGBT individuals on campus. The Pepperdine University 2006-07 student handbook states that "homosexual conduct" will result in disciplinary action.

Pepperdine stop organizer Brian Murphy, a Los Angeles area resident, says: "I cannot in good conscience remain silent when there is a school in my own community that silences people solely on the basis of sexual orientation."

This is the fifth stop for the Equality Ride. The Equality Riders are fifty young adults of varying sexual orientations and faith backgrounds on a mission to end religion-based discrimination against LGBT students on Christian campuses. The fifty young adults are dispersed between two buses with two routes, one bus is eastbound and the other is westbound. From Notre Dame University to Brigham Young University, the westbound bus has connected with many student leaders who have honored this conversation despite the avoidance of administration, while the eastbound has endured arriving to campuses with policemen on rooftops, being held in jail for over 24 hours, vandalism of their bus, and hostile policemen, all for attempting peaceful dialogue regarding the wellbeing of LGBT students on these campuses.

"On the west bus, we are fortunate to have had opportunities to begin this dialogue, especially knowing that our brothers and sisters on the east bus and the students they come to help are still working to simply be recognized as beings that are due this conversation," says Haven Herrin, West Bus Co-Director.

"Pepperdine needs to recognize that having tolerance for us [LGBT students] is not the same as having love for us. We are worthy students and deserve an equal place on campus, a place to formally congregate to do good work, to support one another, and to diversify the student body, because when they [the administration] ignore us and deny us formal recognition as a good and functional student group they send a message to the student body that we are not worthy and in someway wrong," Anthony Barnes, freshman at Pepperdine University and member of the unrecognized student organization Malibu GLEE (gays, lesbian and everyone else).

This Thursday, Pepperdine’s administration, including Mark Davis, Vice President of Students, agreed to meet with GLEE to continue this dialogue.

The Equality Riders will continue their mission to end religion-based discrimination against the LGBT community as they visit Brigham Young University, Idaho in mid-April. The next stop on the Ride will be Fresno Pacific University, where Equality Riders will engage in a welcomed dialogue regarding FPU’s discriminatory policies.


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. For more information go to www.soulforce.org or www.equalityride.com.

Two Students and One Equality Rider Arrested for Standing on Public Sidewalk Outside of University of the Cumberlands; Gay Student Expelled One Year Ago

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SOULFORCE PRESS RELEASE: March 28, 2007
For Immediate Release
Contact: Kyle DeVries, East Bus Media Director
Cell: 612-715-6284, kyle@equalityride.com
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(Williamsburg, KY) — Today, three young adults were arrested for standing on the public sidewalk perimeter of University of the Cumberlands. Twenty-two young adults from the Soulforce Equality Ride traveled to the university to speak messages affirming lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students.

When the Equality Riders arrived at the University of the Cumberlands, police from throughout Whitley County surrounded the bus and the Riders were immediately informed that any attempt to enter onto campus would result in arrest. The riders exited the bus and lined up along the street in order to stand vigil but were promptly told by police that they were not allowed to stand along the public sidewalk.

The Equality Riders began to walk up and down the sidewalk in front of the campus, singing songs from the Civil Rights Movement. After 15 minutes, the young adults broke up to speak with students waiting on the periphery of campus. However police sent mixed messages to the Equality Riders, saying at one point that no individual could stand stationary on the public sidewalk and later that only groups of 3 or more would be arrested for standing stationary. It soon became clear that no individual could stand still along the sidewalk, even to converse with students.

Previously, in Clinton, Mississippi, Equality Riders had faced similar infringements on their constitutional rights to free speech and assembly. There the city also tried to take away the Equality Riders ability to peaceably assemble on public property. Mississippi ACLU lawyer John Williams wrote Clinton citing U.S. Supreme Court precedent that established right to assembly infringements as "the most serious and least tolerable infringement on First Amendment Rights."

One Equality Rider, Jake Reitan, was arrested for standing still along the sidewalk, although he was given no warning or order to disperse. Upon seeing this, two students from the University of the Cumberlands decided to stand on the sidewalk. After about 15 minutes they were arrested by the police.

Some students expressed fear at the University’s backlash towards those who interacted with the Equality Riders. "I would hug you, but we just put in for a budget increase for our student group," said one anonymous student to Jason Johnson, a friend of hers who had been expelled from the school for being gay last year. Another student mused on whether he would be expelled for being videotaped talking to Equality Riders.

The University of Cumberlands maintains a policy that states "Any student who engages in or promotes sexual behavior not consistent with Christian principles (including sex outside marriage and homosexuality) may be suspended or asked to withdraw from the University of the Cumberlands."

Despite the restrictions forced onto the Equality Riders by the University and police, many students chose to walk with the riders up and down the sidewalk in order to speak with them about the university’s discriminatory policy towards LGBT students.

University of the Cumberlands is one of 32 mostly Christian colleges and universities that Soulforce will visit as part of its second annual Soulforce Equality Ride. The 2007 Equality Ride is a 2 month journey by bus that is taking 50 young adults on 2 distinct routes to schools that actively discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

The West Bus of the Equality Ride is currently traveling through California visiting Pepperdine University and Fresno Pacific University.


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. For more information go to www.soulforce.org or www.equalityride.com.

Sit-in at Southern Baptist Leader’s Office Ends in 12 Arrests

12 Arrested Demanding Apology for Comments About Gay Eugenics

Equality Riders Arrested for Sit-in Outside of Albert Mohler’s Office at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

Mohler Refuses to Respond

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SOULFORCE PRESS RELEASE: March 26, 2007
For Immediate Release
Contact: Kyle DeVries, East Bus Media Director
Cell: 612-715-6284, kyle@equalityride.com
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(Louisville, KY) — Today, 12 young adults were arrested for conducting a sit-in outside of the office of Albert Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS). In light of recent inflammatory comments by Albert Mohler, leaders of the Equality Ride eastbound bus decided to reroute temporarily in order to demand an apology for his remarks. Earlier this year, Mohler encouraged the intentional prevention of homosexuality. In an article on his website, Mohler wrote, "If a biological basis is found, and if a prenatal test is then developed, and if a successful treatment to reverse the sexual orientation to heterosexual is ever developed, we would support its use as we should unapologetically support the use of any appropriate means to avoid sexual temptation and the inevitable effects of sin."

Twenty-two Equality Riders sat in Norton Hall at SBTS awaiting a response from Mohler. After about 75 minutes, the Vice President of Communications listened to a statement read by Jarrett Lucas, Co-Director of the Equality Ride. Afterwards, the administrator informed the group that Mohler was unwilling to meet with them or speak with them via telephone.

An excerpt from the statement reads, "We are gathered here as straight, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people to demand that Albert Mohler openly recognize our right to life, love, and liberty. As it stands, his voice is terribly misguided in believing that God does not affirm the identities of gay and transgender people. So, we call on him to take responsibility for his bigotry and the hurtful effects of his statements, and ask that he issue a public apology for having said them. We have a moral obligation to speak out in the name of truth and justice."

After the statement was read, Louisville Police were called in and informed the group that their peaceful assembly would result in arrest. At that point, a delegation left to stand vigil outside of the Seminary. Twelve Equality Riders, determined to stay until Mohler apologized, remained seated outside of the President’s Office. Eventually, they were taken into custody under criminal trespassing charges.

The 2007 Equality Ride is a 2-month journey that is taking 50 young adults on 2 distinct bus routes to schools that actively discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.


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. For more information go to www.soulforce.org or www.equalityride.com.

Photos from the Soulforce Equality Ride West Bus, March 26th – 27th, 2007

Photos by Allison Eby and Delfin Bautista


Emily, Haven, and Kourt approaching the chapel at Pepperdine

A few students at Pepperdine painted this rock that sits on campus as a welcome

Wick stands with some members of the Pepperdine GLEE club that hopes to gain official recognition at their school

Giving a presentation at Pepperdine

Students and riders at Pepperdine prepare to visit the museum of tolerence
 

Gay/Straight Youth Sit-in at Southern Baptist Leader’s Office; Demand Apology for Eugenics Remarks

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SOULFORCE PRESS RELEASE: March 26, 2007
For Immediate Release
Contact: Kyle DeVries, East Bus Media Director
Cell: 612-715-6284, kyle@equalityride.com
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WHAT
In light of recent inflammatory comments by Albert Mohler, leaders of the Soulforce Equality Ride have decided to reroute temporarily in order to conduct a sit-in at his office in the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. They will demand a public apology for statements Mohler made earlier this year that encouraged the intentional prevention of homosexuality. The 2007 Soulforce Equality Ride is a journey by 50 young adults seeking to end religion-based discrimination by visiting Christian universities where both policy and doctrine condemns lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. The group is divided between 2 buses traveling 2 distinct routes across the nation.

In a recent blog, Mohler wrote, "If a biological basis is found, and if a prenatal test is then developed, and if a successful treatment to reverse the sexual orientation to heterosexual is ever developed, we would support its use as we should unapologetically support the use of any appropriate means to avoid sexual temptation and the inevitable effects of sin." The Equality Riders do not plan on leaving the Seminary until Mohler rescinds his harmful comments and publicly apologizes for them.

WHERE
Norton Hall, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

WHO
Twenty-five lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and straight young adults, Christian and non-Christian, on a mission to converse with and educate tomorrow’s conservative leaders.

WHY
Mohler is considered the "reigning intellectual" in the Evangelical Christian community and therefore holds influence over millions of people. His support of eugenics is both dangerous and immoral. Left unchallenged, such prejudice becomes a destructive force that affects everyone. The 25 young adults who will sit-in recognize the ignorance, fear, and hate that impel such homophobia. They feel called to meet such bigotry with nonviolent resistance and to demand change.


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. For more information go to www.soulforce.org or www.equalityride.com.

ACLU – Six National Gay Organizations Fight for Soulforce Equality Rider’s Rights; Riders Being Held in Clinton, Mississippi

Soulforce Equality Riders Bring Attention To Discrimination and Fear

Civil Rights Trump Gay Rights In Mississippi – ACLU Steps In

Six Major GLBT Rights Organizations Step In With Letter to The Mayor of Clinton

BYU Arrests Mother and Son

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SOULFORCE PRESS RELEASE: March 25, 2007
For Immediate Release
Contact: Brandon Kneefel, West Bus Media Director
Cell: 612-715-6138, brandon@equalityride.com
Kyle DeVries, East Bus Media Director
Cell: 612-715-6284, kyle@equalityride.com
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(Clinton, MI and Provo, UT) — The Soulforce Equality Riders arrived at the Mississippi College campus in Clinton seeking to end religion-based oppression of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender LGBT people at Christian colleges across the country. The riders are attempting to engage in a dialogue concerning the harmful effects of policies that silence of exclude LGBT students. Twenty-five lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and straight young adults made the trip. Four of the group’s members were arrested when they stepped off a public sidewalk and onto the grass in front of the college’s administration building. The fifth was arrested about an hour later for the same thing. The Riders were given the choice of staying in jail for a week or performing three days of community service. They chose the latter and will stay behind in Clinton and reconnect with the bus in Alabama. Authorities continued to harass the Equality Riders throughout the day. Local officers used harsh and intimidating language with the Riders. SWAT teams from Clinton Township were also called in. The Soulforce Equality bus was continuously followed and forced to leave Clinton. As Riders were waiting for the return of some of the members of Soulforce to return a police vehicle approached the bus with its lights flashing, signaling the bus to move. The bus driver immediately turned down the nearest road and into a church parking lot to await the Equality Riders. The same officer once again followed them into the parking lot, with his lights on and asked the driver to speak with him. The officer was quite aggressive in demanding that they "go on and get out of town." The driver explained that we were still waiting on the remainder of our group, but was still forced to move the bus. At that time, they drove and parked the bus in a lot that was previously designated by the city of Clinton. For the third time, a police vehicle approached them with flashing lights. The officer who had approached the bus was extremely indignant and asked "what is your problem? We have already given you breaks today." The driver explained that we were in the space the City provided for us. In response, the officer asserted that the driver would be arrested if he were to take Equality Riders anywhere else and not leave the city of Clinton immediately.

In a letter to Rosemary G. Aultman, Mayor of the City of Clinton, Lambda Legal, NGLTF, NCLR, GLAAD, HRC and Log Cabin Republicans state: On March 20, Clinton police officials informed Soulforce that its members would be cited if they
"attempt[ed] to gather or travel in a group of four or more" near the campus of Mississippi College. Lt. Thomas R. Ruffin acknowledged that the department’s actions "could be construed as conflicting with constitutional allowances," but said that Soulforce’s presence in Clinton presented "valid public safety concerns." This accusation is utterly without merit: Soulforce is enormously well respected across the country and is relentlessly nonviolent. Only after being contacted by the American Civil Liberties Union did the police lift the threat of citation.

Despite the arrests, riders and students engaged in constructive dialogue about sexuality, gender, and faith. Over one hundred Mississippi students eagerly awaited the Equality riders in hopes of opening up this dialogue. Many shared stories of discrimination and fear for their lives.

Some students supported the group’s right to visit the school. "While I disagree with them, I believe we should welcome them," 20-year-old student Alex Touchstone, of Meridian, said. "Jesus loves them the same as he loves us."

Rider Brandy Daniels states, "It was exciting and encouraging to see students cross school boundaries to engage in conversation. It really demonstrates that this is a conversation that students want to have, despite the opposition of the administration."

"We come to these campuses to create dialogue and to be a support for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people," Daniels said. "Mississippi College teaches that LGBT people are sick and sinful. But we know and express that God affirms LGBT people in their identity and truth."

Mississippi College is one of 32 Christian colleges and universities that Soulforce will visit as part of its second annual Soulforce Equality Ride. The 2007 Equality Ride is a 2 month journey by bus that is taking 50 young adults on 2 distinct routes to schools that actively discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Mississippi College is a private Christian college located in Clinton, Mississippi. Their student handbook includes "homosexual activities" in a list of improprieties subject to disciplinary sanctions.

The riders came to speak with students at the university about this discriminatory policy towards lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students and the doctrine that sustains it.

At BYU on Thursday, Mormon Equality Rider Kourt Osborn, and his mother, Karel Allen, were arrested in an attempt to deliver a list of concerns to the administration regarding BYU’s discriminatory policies against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students. Current and former BYU students, gay and straight, submitted over fifty pages of concerns for the well being of LGBT students at BYU. Four of the Riders were raised in the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints.

The BYU Student Honor Code states that "no one known to be guilty of overt and active homosexual conduct is to be enrolled or permitted to remain at Church Educational System (CES) campuses as students…"

Equality Riders spent an afternoon at Utah Valley State College leading presentations about sexual orientation and faith for community members, including LDS youth, and spent Wednesday evening with fifty BYU students discussing the reconciliation of the Church and LGBT individuals.

Melissa Pomeroy, a sophomore at BYU, shared her concern: "I feel like I’m all alone at BYU. There is no way for me to meet others like me, even just to talk, because everyone is so afraid of coming out."

"We remain hopeful that the student leaders will continue this dialogue beyond our [Equality Ride] visit and that the administration will come to see the value in this discussion," says Matt Kulisch.


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. For more information go to www.soulforce.org or www.equalityride.com.

Police Harass Traveling Young Adults; Nonviolent Group is Threatened and Intimidated by Officers

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SOULFORCE PRESS RELEASE: March 23, 2007
For Immediate Release
Contact: Kyle DeVries, East Bus Media Director
Cell: 612-715-6284, kyle@equalityride.com
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(Clinton, MS) — As a traveling group of young adults attempted to recollect and depart Clinton, Mississippi, they were stopped three times by police vehicles within less than ten minutes. Their driver was subjected to threatening demands to "get out of town."

In response to this clear act of harassment, the Co-Directors of the tour wrote a letter to the Attorney General of Mississippi that voiced their concerns regarding this maltreatment and stated their intentions to return today.

The young adults are participants of the Soulforce Equality Ride, a 2-month journey to Christian schools to address the suffering of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students. As their goal is social justice and loving inclusion, they are committed to and trained in the principles of nonviolence as taught by Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi.

Please see the letter below.

Also available: Letter from leaders of major LGBT rights organizations to the Mayor of Clinton [pdf]

March 23, 2007

Attorney General Jim Hood

MS Attorney General’s Office
Carroll Gartin Justice Building
450 High Street
Jackson, MS 39201

Sent Via: Facsimile

Re: "Get out of town"

Dear Attorney General Hood,

We write today out of deep concern for the actions of the Clinton Mississippi Police Department. We are the Co-Directors of the Soulforce Equality Ride, a bus tour of college students who are crossing the country to advocate for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender equality. As a group we are committed to and trained in the principles of nonviolence, and have a history of peaceful dialogue and respectful interaction with college students and administrations across the country. Soulforce has an outstanding relationship with many police departments and honors the hard work that law enforcement officials put into their lives everyday.

Last night, while in the town of Clinton, Mississippi, we experienced a distressing form of police intimidation. After a day of dialogue at nearby Mississippi College, we parked our bus in downtown Clinton. We were waiting for the return of some of the members of our tour from area coffee shops. While waiting, a police vehicle approached the bus with its lights flashing, signaling us to move. Our bus driver immediately turned down the nearest road and into a church parking lot to await the Equality Riders. The same officer once again followed us into the parking lot, with his lights on and asked our driver to speak with him. The officer was quite aggressive in demanding that we "go on and get out of town." Our driver explained that we were still waiting on the remainder of our group, but was still forced to move the bus. At that time, we drove and parked the bus in a lot that was previously designated by the city of Clinton. For the third time, a police vehicle approached us with flashing lights. The officer who approached us was extremely indignant and asked us "what is your problem? We have already given you breaks today." Our driver explained that we were in the space the City provided for us. In response, the officer asserted that our driver would be arrested if he were to take us anywhere else and not leave the city of Clinton immediately. Soon after, a community member arrived with the rest of the Equality Riders and we left promptly. We are prepared to provide sworn affidavits from ten people who can attest to the above series of events.

This behavior on the part of a Clinton police officer is unacceptable and we consider it a violation of our civil rights. Law abiding citizens should be allowed to safely assemble in any town in America. Such actions on the part of a law enforcement agent serve to make gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people feel unsafe in the city of Clinton. The role of a police officer is to protect members of the public, not threaten or intimidate them.

These concerns are augmented by the fact that several days prior to our arrival in Clinton, we received a document from the Clinton Police Department that set restrictions on our First Amendment right to assemble. After being contacted by the American Civil Liberties Union, the city rescinded the unconstitutional restrictions and shamefully applauded Soulforce for "playing the game well."

We are planning on returning to the city of Clinton today for a preplanned community picnic and we will not tolerate a repeat of this sort of behavior from the Clinton Police Department. If threatened with arrest for lawful assembly today members of the Soulforce Equality Ride are prepared and willing to submit to such an arrest. Any arrests for lawful assembly would be challenged by us in court and followed up with a lawsuit on our behalf against the city of Clinton for violation of our civil rights.

We hope that you will take swift action by informing the city of Clinton that such behavior by the Clinton Police is unlawful and will not be tolerated in the State of Mississippi.

Jarrett Lucas & Katie Higgins


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. For more information go to www.soulforce.org or www.equalityride.com.