Goose Creek, S.C.-native and 2008 Equality Ride Co-Director Katie Higgins arrested at Bob Jones University in Greenville, S.C. on April 4, 2007. Photo Credit: Adam Britt/Equality Ride
COLUMBIA — A group of 17 young adult LGBT and straight ally activists have announced their 2008 tour of Christian colleges and universities they say promote anti-gay doctrines and student policies.
The Equality Ride, a project organized by Soulforce Q, will take 17 LGBT and straight ally youth to 15 faith-based educational institutions. The October and November tour will focus on the South, with stops from Virginia to Oklahoma and from Florida to Kentucky. Soulforce Q is the youth division of the national, interfaith organization Soulforce, founded by former Jerry Falwell ghostwriter, openly gay Mel White to confront anti-LGBT religious prejudice.
Ed. Note — This writer was a participant in the 2007 Equality Ride and other Soulforce Q youth actions.
The two-month trip will include one stop in the Carolinas at the Columbia International University, on Oct. 6 following the group’s scheduled Oct. 2-3 visit at the Lynchburg, Va.-based Liberty University.
Founded in 1923 as Columbia Bible School, Columbia International is one of hundreds of institutions affiliated with the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities, an organization that has publicly stated anti-gay religious views in defense of member schools who were visited by the group during its first tour in 2006.
“Our member schools have shaped their policies and teachings on more than 2,000 years of church history and use the whole biblical text in affirming that sexual intimacy is intended for a man and woman within the context of marriage,” read a 2006 CCCU statement.
Columbia International University’s student handbook also bans “homosexual behavior.”
“Certain behaviors are expressly prohibited in Scripture and therefore are to be avoided by members of the University community,” the handbook states. “These include theft, gambling, lying, dishonesty, gossip, slander, backbiting, profanity, vulgarity (including crude language), sexual promiscuity (including adultery, homosexual behavior, premarital sex, and pornography), drunkenness, immodest attire, and occult practice.”
“Homosexual behavior” is not explicitly defined, although the handbook states elsewhere, “Any sexual misconduct, including, but not limited to, adultery, homosexuality (including any same-sex physical expression of romantic affection), any form of premarital sex, indecent exposure, sexual harassment, use of sexually explicit materials for sexual gratification, and sexual abuse of children, is forbidden.”
Equality Ride Co-Director Katie Higgins, a native of Goose Creek, S.C., said her organization chose to go to Columbia International because of how many reports they’d heard of its hostile and anti-gay climate.
“They took a long time to respond [to our original letter], but they did respond in a lengthy letter actually,” Higgins told Q-Notes. “The letter goes through their spritual commands and teachings on the issue and also quotes their handbook.”
Higgins said university officials offered to meet with members of the Ride off-campus, but that she and her co-director Jarrett Lucas turned down the offer.
“That offer wouldn’t have been one of a true and open dialogue with students,” Higgins said.
More than 200 U.S. colleges and universities espouse explicit doctrines or policies that discriminate against LGBT students. Other colleges without such explicit statements have also been known to foster anti-gay climates where harassment of LGBT students is prevalent and often ignored. According to Soulforce Q organizers, 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. During their visits, the youth activists host public forums, participate in panel discussions and take part in worship services and Bible students. The youths’ stated goal is “to inspire further conversation and to empower students, faculty, and administrators, to maker their school welcoming to all students.”
The 2007 Equality Ride visited two Carolinas schools — Bob Jones University in Greenville, S.C., and Montreat College in Montreat, N.C., near Asheville. Riders then faced vocal and outspoken opposition from anti-gay preachers and protest groups at their stop at Bob Jones, including the presence of the Concord, N.C.-based Operation Save America.
Higgins said the group decided not to re-visit Bob Jones because they “hit a wall” and decided to reach out to other parts of the state.
The 17 youth taking the trip this fall, many of them currently enrolled in school, are from across the U.S. Co-director Katie Higgins is a native of Goose Creek, S.C., near Charleston.
The lack of native Southerners on the Ride, Higgins said, is a direct reflection of the area’s cultural, social and religious climates. Only six of the 17 Equality Riders are from the Southeast. One other attended school there.
“The people on the Ride reflect directly the pool of applicants we received,” Higgins said. “I spent two weeks driving through the Southeast trying to recruit Southerners. There is a feeling that things are never going change and a lot of people are very dedicated to staying in their own communities and working there.”
Higgins also said her group did direct, geographic outreach only to the Southeast.
Watch video from the 2007 Equality Ride stop at Bob Jones University on April 4, 2008.