USA Today, "Liberty to Allow Gay Group to Visit Campus"

Liberty To Allow Gay Group To Visit Campus

Tuesday, September 30, 2008
By Ashley Gipson, Religion News Service

WASHINGTON — The Soulforce 2008 Equality Ride, a nationwide bus tour that promotes acceptance for gays and lesbians on Christian college campuses, will start this year’s tour with a Wednesday visit to Liberty University — the first time the group will be allowed on campus.

In 2006, more than 20 Equality Ride activists were arrested for attempting to enter Liberty’s campus to donate gay-affirming Christian books to the library.

This year’s visit will mark the group’s first visit to Liberty since Jerry Falwell Jr. assumed leadership after the death of his father. Riders say they hope the campus’ zeal for politics will allow open conversation about "faith and fairness," they said.

"We are in contact with Liberty students who have been waiting for the Equality Ride to return," said Katie Higgins, Equality Ride’s co-director.

Liberty officials have indicated that they will not plan opportunities for dialogue, but they will not ban the Equality Riders from speaking with students and donating materials to the university, according to a statement released by Soulforce.

"If the administration would rather not talk about safety and quality of life for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students, the students themselves are another story," Soulforce said.

This year’s tour will target more seminaries than earlier campaigns. The Equality Riders will host forums, participate in panel discussions, and engage in community service opportunities to reach out to the students.

"We bring hope to students who fear expulsion or other sanctions just for being themselves," said Higgins. "We tell them God loves them just as they are, and we speak up for a community where everyone can learn without fear."

Johnnie Moore, Liberty’s spiritual programs director, declined to comment about the Equality Riders coming to campus.

The original article is available on the USA Today website
www.usatoday.com/news/religion/2008-09-30-liberty-gay_N.htm

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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LGBT EQUALITY GROUPS TEAM UP FOR 2009 ANTI-HETEROSEXISM CONFERENCE IN WEST PALM BEACH, FLORIDA

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SOULFORCE PRESS RELEASE: September 24, 2009
For Immediate Release
Contact: Carlos Perez de Alejo, Soulforce Media Director, 321-948-3423
Jeff Lutes, Soulforce Executive Director, 512-419-0600
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(AUSTIN, TX) From November 20-22, advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) equality will join clergy, educators, mental health professionals and allies at the 2009 Anti-Heterosexism Conference in West Palm Beach, Florida.  The conference offers a range of in-depth workshops and is open to everyone who seeks to challenge the harmful affects of heterosexism, reparative therapy, ex-gay ministries and other efforts to change people’s sexual orientation.

“First off, it’s important to be clear that the title of the conference is the Anti-Heterosexism Conference, not anti-heterosexual,” says Jeff Lutes, Executive Director of Soulforce and one of the organizers of the conference.  “Heterosexism is the widespread assumption that heterosexual relationships are somehow superior to same-sex relationships, which leads to all kinds of abuse and discrimination against LGBT people. We want to highlight where heterosexism seeps into the social, cultural, religious and political fabric of society, and how we can begin to unravel its damaging consequences.”

Through a weekend-long series of workshops and keynote speakers, conference attendees will learn to challenge heterosexist attitudes and practices, speak out against the dangers of reparative therapy and other conversion efforts, and become strong advocates for LGBT equality.  

Keynote speakers for the conference include Dr. Sylvia Rue, Interim Executive Director of the National Black Justice Coalition, Rev. Deborah L. Johnson of Inner Light Ministries, and Dr. Jack Drescher, Distinguished Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association.  Joining Soulforce as co-sponsors of the conference are Truth Wins Out, the National Black Justice Coalition, Beyond Ex-Gay, Box Turtle Bulletin and Equality Florida.

The Anti-Heterosexism Conference also serves as a counterweight to the anti-gay think tank, NARTH (National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality), which will be hosting its annual conference on the same weekend in West Palm Beach.  For years NARTH has promoted reparative or “sexual orientation conversion” therapy, claiming that LGBT people can and should change their sexual orientation. 

However, after a thorough review of the literature on conversion therapy, the American Psychological Association (APA) concluded that sexual orientation is unlikely to change through therapy and adopted a resolution in August 2009 calling on mental health professionals to avoid telling clients they can change from gay to straight through “therapeutic” efforts or other treatments.  The resolution builds on an APA report from 1998, which warned that reparative therapy can lead patients to “depression, anxiety, and self-destructive behavior,” because “therapist alignment with societal prejudices against homosexuality may reinforce self-hatred already experienced by the patient.” 

In November, individuals and organizations from across the country will come together for the Anti-Heterosexism Conference to work through the process of moving beyond the dangers of heterosexism to a more just and equitable environment for LGBT people.  “It’s time we named the problem,” says Lutes, “and begin walking together through the solution.”

For more information on the conference, visit: http://www.soulforce.org/anti-heterosexism-conference

Soulforce is a national civil rights and social justice organization dedicated to freedom for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people from religious and political oppression through the practice of relentless nonviolent resistance.

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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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2010 Equality Ride Route: Valley Forge Christian College

Valley Forge Christian College

The Equality Ride stop at Valley Forge Christian College is March 5, 2010.

The Equality Rider organizing the stop at Valley Forge Christian College is Jess Kalup.

Jess Kalup Jess Kalup
jess_kalup@equalityride.com

If you are a student at Valley Forge Christian College, an alum of Valley Forge Christian College, or a concerned citizen in the Phoenixville, PA area and would like to help with the Soulforce Q Equality Ride’s visit to Valley Forge Christian College, please register below.

Register to help with the 2010 Equality Ride’s stop at Valley Forge Christian College

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

2008 Equality Ride Route: Spelman College

Spelman CollegeThe Equality Ride stop at Spelman College is October 10, 2008.

The Equality Rider organizing the stop at Spelman College is Danielle Cooper.

Danielle Cooper Danielle Cooper
danielle@equalityride.com

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

Register to help with the 2008 Equality Ride’s stop at Spelman College

2008 Equality Ride Route: Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

Southwestern Baptist Theological SeminaryThe Equality Ride stop at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary is October 27, 2008.

The Equality Rider organizing the stop at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary is Anna Kirey.

Anna Kirey Anna Kirey
anna@equalityride.com

If you are a student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, an alum of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, or a concerned citizen in the Fort Worth, Texas area and would like to help with the Soulforce Q Equality Ride’s visit to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, please register below.

Register to help with the 2008 Equality Ride’s stop at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

2008 Equality Ride Route: Southwestern Assemblies of God University

Southwestern Assemblies of God UniversityThe Equality Ride stop at Southwestern Assemblies of God University is October 29, 2008.

The Equality Rider organizing the stop at Southwestern Assemblies of God University is Caitlin MacIntyre.

Caitlin MacIntyre Caitlin MacIntyre
caitlin@equalityride.com

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

Register to help with the 2008 Equality Ride’s stop at Southwestern Assemblies of God University

2008 Equality Ride Route: Simmons College of Kentucky

Simmons College of KentuckyThe Equality Ride stop at Simmons College of Kentucky is November 13, 2008.

The Equality Rider organizing the stop at Simmons College of Kentucky is Taueret Manu.

Taueret Manu Taueret Manu
taueret@equalityride.com

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

Register to help with the 2008 Equality Ride’s stop at Simmons College of Kentucky