SOULFORCE PRESS RELEASE: March 27, 2008
For Immediate Release
Contact: Paige Schilt, Media Director
(Austin, TX) This spring, Soulforce celebrates 10 years of relentless nonviolent activism for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) freedom. In keeping with Soulforce’s "take it to the streets" ethos, a mix of formal events and grassroots action will mark the milestone anniversary:
- On Saturday, April 5, Equality Virginia will present the Fifth Annual Commonwealth Award to Soulforce Co-founders Rev. Dr. Mel White and Gary Nixon.
- On Friday, April 25th at 7:30pm, Soulforce hosts a 10th Anniversary Gala and Reunion at the Marriott Dallas/Fort Worth Airport South.
- On Saturday, April 26th, at 7:00 am, Soulforce invites all who care about justice for LGBT people to gather in downtown Fort Worth’s General Worth Square for a training in nonviolence and a vigil outside the United Methodist General Conference.
Ten years ago, Rev. Dr. Mel White and his partner Gary Nixon began laying the groundwork for a new social movement. Under the auspices of "Soulforce," a name adapted from the teachings of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mohandas K. Gandhi, White and Nixon began to organize lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans to study the principles of nonviolent direct action. This course of study led to the first Soulforce direct action, a historic 1999 dialogue between 200 members of Soulforce and the congregation of Jerry Falwell’s Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia.
Selected Soulforce Timeline
1998: White and Nixon convene the first Soulforce Board of Directors.
1999: In Lynchburg, Virginia, 200 Soulforce members attend an unprecedented meeting with 200 members of Rev. Jerry Falwell’s Thomas Road Baptist Church; later that year, 74 are arrested for blocking the entrance to the United Methodist church where Rev. Jimmy Creech is being tried for marrying same-sex couples.
2000: In Cleveland, Arun Gandhi and Yolanda King lead civil disobedience inside the United Methodist General Conference to protest the denomination’s anti-gay policies. Arun Gandhi, grandson of Mohandas, is among the 191 arrested.
2001: In Rome, Soulforce and Dignity/USA bring photographs representing the gifts of faithful LGBT Catholics to the Vatican for The Epiphany.
2002: In St. Louis, Soulforce activists disrupt business at the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention to call attention to the suffering caused by the denomination’s anti-gay teachings.
2005: In Colorado Springs, more than 1,000 people join Soulforce outside Focus on the Family headquarters to hold James Dobson accountable for his ant-gay rhetoric. The Reitan family is arrested for trespassing, as documented in For the Bible Tells Me So.
2006: Nationwide, the first Soulforce Equality Ride bus brings hope and truth to 18 colleges that silence or exclude LGBT students. Soulforce Q, the young adult division of Soulforce, is born.
2007: In Irvine, California, 200 ex-gay survivors come together for the first Ex-gay Survivor Conference, a powerful rebuttal to the annual meeting of Exodus International. Three former Exodus leaders issue a formal apology for the harm caused by ex-gay programs.
Looking Ahead with Hope
As Soulforce prepares to celebrate its tenth anniversary, the landscape of religion-based bigotry is shifting. Recent research by the Barna group suggests that young Christians are increasingly uncomfortable with church-sanctioned hostility toward LGBT people. But in spite of these positive changes, an old guard of radical right-wing organizations continues to use sexual orientation and gender identities as wedges to divide mainline denominations and our nation. In April 2008, the Soulforce Vigil for Justice at the United Methodist General Conference will stand up to these divisive voices, encouraging the United Methodist Church to live up to its slogan "Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors," by including LGBT people in marriage rites, ministry, and membership.
Then, between Mother’s Day and Father’s Day 2008, delegations of LGBT families will initiate dialogue with a new generation of Christian leaders. The American Family Outing will ask nationally known pastors, including Joel Osteen and T.D. Jakes, to exercise positive leadership in ending physical and spiritual violence against LGBT people.
In fall 2008, the Third Annual Equality Ride will visit the American South. The itinerary will include seminaries and several faith-based Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Through education, outreach, and direct action, these courageous young activists will illuminate the destructive effects of religion-based bigotry and sow the seeds of a more inclusive campus culture. A true youth movement, the Equality Ride is empowering a new generation to challenge tradition and secure a brighter future for everyone.
Soulforce is a national civil rights and social justice organization. Our vision is freedom for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people from religious and political oppression through the practice of relentless nonviolent resistance. For more information go to www.soulforce.org.