Equality Ride Bus Rolls to a Stop, But Change Keeps Coming

Third Annual Tour of Christian Colleges Empowers LGBT Students
$25,000 Still Needed

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SOULFORCE MEDIA ADVISORY: November 20, 2008
For Immediate Release

Contact: Paige Schilt, 
Media Director
Cell: 512-659-1771
paige@soulforce.org

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(Laurel, MD) The third annual Soulforce Q Equality Ride is coming to a close this week with a de-briefing in Laurel, Maryland. For the past six weeks, these extraordinary lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT), and straight young adults have brought their message of inclusion and safety to 15 faith-based schools throughout the South.

Although the bus tour has ended, the work of fostering safe learning environments for LGBT students is just beginning. Students and faculty, empowered by the Equality Ride, will now take on the work of organizing gay/straight alliances and safe spaces for LGBT students. Some will advocate for the re-examination of antigay policies that are inconsistent with Christian principles. The Equality Riders will stay in touch and provide on-going guidance and support.

Since 2006, the Equality Ride has visited 65 schools, hosting public forums, participating in panel discussions, and taking part in worship services and Bible studies. Often, the Equality Riders are the first LGBT-affirming voices to be heard on campuses with official policies that discriminate against gay and transgender students.

The impact of the Equality Ride on individual lives is immeasurable, but there are some measurable indicators of the Ride’s success. Since the project’s inception, Riders have contributed to:

  • 17 new or revived gay/straight alliances
  • 6 new faculty-led safe spaces
  • 2 positive policy changes (at Samford University and Brigham Young University)

Highlights and Lowpoints of the Third Annual Equality Ride

September 23, 2008: The Soulforce issues an emergency appeal for donations to get the bus on the road despite difficult economic times.

October 1, 2008: Liberty University, founded by Rev. Jerry Falwell, opens the campus for free discussions between Equality Riders and Liberty students.

October 10-11, 2008: Students and administrators at Morehouse College and Spelman College collaborate with Equality Riders to create 2-days of LGBT-affirming programming. These successful events mark the Equality Ride’s first visits to historically black colleges.

October 12, 2008: The Equality Ride bus is vandalized in West Palm Beach, Florida. Bus driver Dondi Penn, a straight ally, is targeted with homophobic slurs.

October 24, 2008: The Equality Ride and Dallas Baptist University hold a joint press conference before an unprecedented day of discussions with faculty, administrators, and students about safety for LGBT students.

November 11, 2008: Equality Riders are physically barred from a public concert at First Baptist Church in Jackson, Tennessee.

November 14, 2008: The Equality Ride bus rolls to a stop in Laurel, Maryland for a week of debriefing and follow-up with schools from the route. Although the official part of the Ride is over, the Riders must still raise $25,000 to cover the bills for this important work.

"This year, and every year, the Equality Ride’s greatest impact is in the one-on-one connections we make, both on and off the bus," said Jarrett Lucas, Equality Ride Co-director. "Building those relationships pushes us to challenge misinformation about our differences and question prejudices. Then we leave the Ride and manifest those lessons in our everyday lives. That empowerment is the heartbeat of social justice. That empowerment is our success."

To interview an Equality Rider from your city or state about the experience of the 2008 Ride, contact Paige Schilt, Soulforce Media Director, or visit our "Meet the Riders" page: http://www.soulforce.org/2008riders

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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Kara Speltz Speech on Behalf of Soulforce at the November 15, 2008 Protest of Proposition 8 in Oakland, California

These last ten days have been such an emotional roller coaster. Tears of joy! Tears of grief. But ultimately, what we need to remember is that at long last, the polictics of fear lost. We are entering a new era, a time of HOPE.

When my 42 year old interracial son was born, it was illegal for blacks and whites to marry. When he was 2, the NY Times ran a survey. 72% of the readership was opposed to interracial marriage. Today we have an Afro-American president elect. Who would have believed that?

For too long we, transgender, lesbian, bisexual and gay people have sat back on our laurels, so to speak, especially in the Bay Area. We’ve taken our rights for granted. But today, is a new beginning; another Stonewall. We’re fighting back, but this time our weapon must be LOVE. Gandhi and King showed us the way. The Mormons aren’t our enemy, ignorance is our enemy. It’s not by being in their faces, that we’ll win this struggle, its by being in their HEARTS.

The Yes on Prop 8 campaign used the tactic of fear in their support of Prop 8. Only love can overcome fear. The failure to communicate is on our part. Every time, we weren’t out to family, to friends, to co-workers we cast a vote for shame, a vote to end our Right to Marry.

We’ll fight this in the courts and in the media. But we can’t leave it for someone else to do. This has to be a tranformational moment for each of us. a personal commitment to overcoming our own fears, overcoming the shame and the ignorance with our love and our persistance. As Gandhi said, we must become the change we seek.

Share with your neighbors, your coworkers and your family exactly how devastating this loss of the right to marry has been for you. Help them understand, change hearts one at a time.

Nonviolence isn’t for wimps. It’s hard work and it takes courage. I ask each and every one of you to face that challenge. Choose love over anger, choose love over hate, choose love over devisivness. I ask you to make that commitment this morning, and every morning. We can & will win.

Kara Speltz is Executive Assistant for Soulforce

The Courier-Journal, "Gay-issues group visits area college"

Gay-issues group visits area college

Bus tour promotes inclusion, safety

Friday, November 14, 2008
By Chris Quay, The Courier-Journal

One by one, members of Equality Ride read aloud short descriptions of prominent African Americans displayed on the black-and-white pictures they held in front of Simmons College.

Taueret Manu, 21, of New York City, held pictures of writer Alice Walker and former civil-rights activist Bayard Rustin.

Rustin, a principal organizer of the 1963 march on Washington and adviser to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., was openly gay. "Not many people know that," Manu said.

Other pictures featured gay, lesbian and transgender African Americans who were victims of hate crimes.

The readings were part of Soulforce Q’s Equality Ride bus tour, a project of young people with alternative lifestyles who visit faith-based colleges to promote inclusion and safety.

As a black gay woman "I know firsthand homophobia, sexism and racism are all intertwined," Manu said. "In order to combat those things you have to hit it at the root, and that’s usually spiritual violence."

The roughly 20 young people in the Equality Ride group stood shoulder to shoulder along the sidewalk. At times they were silent and at other times they sang songs of unity.

The group also walked to St. Stephen Church to meet with individuals and students.

Simmons and St. Stephen were the last destinations on the group’s current tour, which made 16 stops, including visits to Spelman and Morehouse colleges in Atlanta, Palm Beach Atlantic University in Florida and Dallas Baptist University.

Jarrett Lucas, Equality Ride co-director, said the tour chooses schools based on e-mails and letters it receives from students. Lucas said they had previously spoken with a couple of students who attended Simmons and were made to feel that they "didn’t belong."

Manu and Lucas had a spirited discussion with the Rev. Kevin Cosby, Simmons’ president and the St. Stephen pastor, before the group’s sidewalk vigil. The Equality Ride representatives said they asked for permission to visit the school, but Cosby told them he never granted it.

"Equality Ride is about going to academic institutions because if we’re having intellectual and spiritual conversations about people’s lives and about matters of faith, why would we not come to a Christian college," Lucas said. "Dr. Cosby’s presumption about what the Equality Ride is and what we seek to do has led him to a place where he’s not interested in actually engaging us or listening to us."

Cosby told Lucas and Manu that he didn’t have issues with their choice of lifestyle. He said, however, that the issues they are promoting are less important than other concerns facing the African-American community.

"I have a problem when they attempt to define what the agenda is in poor African-American communities. It’s very paternal and arrogant," Cosby said.

"It does not reflect the myriad of problems the urban community is facing," he said. "I believe in equal opportunity and that gays and lesbians should not be discriminated against in any form. However, we’re not talking about the public square and society, we’re talking about the right local churches and private schools have to set policy."

Readers can reach reporter Chris Quay at (502) 582-4241.

The original article is available on the Courier-Journal website:
http://www.courier-journal.com/article/20081114/ZONE07/811140461

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

Equality Ride to Conclude at Simmons College of Kentucky with Spotlight on LGBT People of Color

Young Adults Tour Christian Colleges to Advocate Safety and Inclusion for All Students

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SOULFORCE MEDIA ADVISORY: November 10, 2008
For Immediate Release

Contact: Caitlin MacIntyre, 
Equality Ride Media Director
Cell: 612-715-6138 Email: caitlin@equalityride.com
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What: On November 13th, the Soulforce Q Equality Ride, a youth-organized bus tour to faith-based colleges, will bring a message of inclusion and safety to Simmons College in Louisville, Kentucky. Currently the university has refused all contact with Equality Ride organizers concerning the visit and the possibility of providing an open forum for dialogue. However, the Equality Ride will still travel to Simmons in an effort to begin discussion with the students on campus about faith and fairness for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people.

Simmons College is a historically black institution, and the Equality Ride visit will focus on gay and transgender people of color and the ways in which their voices have been silenced both in society and in faith communities.

Why: More than 200 U.S. colleges and universities have explicit policies that discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students. Simmons College policy states that, "We deny any teaching that would excuse…any kind of homosexual acts or unions as contrary to the express teachings of the Bible and contrary to the historic faith of the Christian community in all past ages."

When: Thursday, November 13th
11 AM, Riders arrive at Simmons
1:30 PM, Riders will walk to St. Stephen’s Church in order to engage the congregation and leadership about their beliefs and the effects these ideas have on diverse members of their community.

Where: Simmons College-1811 Dumesnil St.
St. Stephen’s Church-1008 S 15th St.

Who: The 18 to 26-year-old Equality Riders are members of Soulforce Q, the young adult division of Soulforce, a national social justice organization.

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.

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.

 

"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.

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 Sow Seeds of Change at Ouachita Baptist University

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

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SOULFORCE PRESS RELEASE: November 6, 2008
For Immediate Release
Contact: Caitlin MacIntyre, Equality Ride Media Director
Cell: 612-715-6138
caitlin@equalityride.com
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(Arkadelphia, AR) — Wednesday, the Equality Ride, a national bus tour of Christian universities that promotes fairness and safety for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students, visited Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas.

The young adult 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.

Recently, Ouachita Baptist officials responded with an invitation to meet at Hammons House, a building on the outskirts of campus. After discussing the situation with school officials and visiting the location, Riders decided to accept the offer in order to have the most time possible for productive dialogue.

"Although the location that Equality Riders were offered on campus was not ideal, we felt that we could reach many students for productive conversations regarding Christianity and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people," explains Rider and OBU stop organizer Abigail Reikow. Equality Riders estimate that they spoke with between 100 and 200 students on the campus, which has a total student population of 1,448.

Throughout the day, groups of Ouachita students came to dialogue with Equality Riders. Some brought refreshments to share. Others thanked the Riders for bringing an LGBT-affirming perspective to the campus. The Ouachita Baptist University student handbook states that, "human sexuality is a gift from God for procreation of human life and for the expression of one’s love through marriage" and lists "homosexual acts" among the "misuses of God’s gift." Students in violation of these guidelines face penalties ranging from "verbal warning to expulsion."

Reikow and other Riders planted the seeds of new ideas by giving away more than 70 apples labeled with facts about LGBT Arkansans, LGBT-affirming Bible quotations, and stories of local LGBT and ally families. Conversations throughout the day were respectful and productive and continued until around 5:00PM.

"It was clear that students were interested in having these conversations. I think the Equality Ride brought a vital affirming voice for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people and hopefully the Equality Ride’s visit is the first step in an extended and continuous conversation about faith, sexuality, and gender," says Katie Higgins, Equality Ride Co-director.

Equality Riders will be available on Thursday to speak to students and community members at the Henderson College library from 2PM to 5PM. All are welcome to come and join Riders for discussion. The Equality Ride will return to Central Baptist College on Friday, when the Baptist Missionary Association will be meeting on campus in order to stand vigil and hopefully engage BMA leadership about faith and fairness at Central Baptist.

More than 200 U.S. colleges and universities have explicit policies that discriminate against 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 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 Equality Ride bus is on the road through November 13, 2008. Future stops include:

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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Statement from Soulforce Executive Director Jeff Lutes

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SOULFORCE PRESS RELEASE: November 5, 2008
For Immediate Release

Contact: Paige Schilt, 
Media Director
Cell: 512-659-1771
paige@soulforce.org

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

Statement from Soulforce Executive Director, Jeff Lutes:

Today is a day of blessing seasoned by loss. For even as America’s historic presidential election ushers in a new dawn of fairness and inclusivity, a majority of voters in Arizona, Arkansas, California, and Florida have voted, once again, to exclude some Americans from the fundamental promise of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

Ironically, from the very beginning of his campaign, President-elect Obama abjured the politics of division and exclusion that have marred our political process by depicting some groups — immigrants, poor people, people of color, and LGBT people — as dangerous "others" who threaten our national identity. Obama’s own story gives us hope for a more perfect, and more fully inclusive, union. But, as always in our nation’s history, there remains more work to be done in order to make our most cherished ideals a reality.

My heartfelt gratitude goes to all of the dedicated, tireless people who worked to defeat discriminatory ballot measures. Soulforce shares your pain, disappointment, and concern for the many couples and families who are more vulnerable because of this legislation. The extent of the misinformation that we faced in these struggles was daunting, but please know that your work has already borne fruit. And take comfort in knowing that those who voted for discrimination are mere footnotes to larger trends in public opinion — which is shifting in favor of legal recognition of same-sex couples — and to the larger narrative of American history — which is continually refining its promise of liberty and justice for all.

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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