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Equality riders face vandalism and harassment
West bus faces intimidation in the Heartland, while East bus defaced with anti-gay slurs in Iowa

Soulforce Equality riders awoke to find their bus covered with anti-gay slurs and graffiti.
On the opening day of Soulforce’s Equality Ride 2007, 50 young riders faced grim reminders of why they are on two buses, headed for 32 Christian colleges with policies that silence or exclude LGBT students. The eastbound bus made its first stop in Sioux Center, Iowa, where riders were harassed at their hotel. The following morning they awoke to find their bus defaced by graphic anti-gay graffiti.

The Equality Ride traveled to Sioux Center to visit Dordt College, a school that counts “sexual activity with someone of the same gender” as possible grounds for “an employee’s discharge or a student’s dismissal.” The Equality Ride’s mission is to open a dialogue about the painful consequences of discrimination and the religion-based prejudice that sustains it.

The bus full of young adults, including former students of conservative Christian colleges, straight allies and gay evangelical Christians, arrived in Sioux Center in the early evening. On the night of March 7, three vehicles circled the hotel where the Equality Riders were staying, harassing the young adults who were inside. In the morning, anti-gay slurs were found written on the side of the bus, along with a hate-filled message on a piece of cardboard: “God does not love feary faggots.”

Last year, the Equality Ride received a similar welcome in Cleveland, Tenn. There, community members wrote “fags-mobile” on the side of the bus. Katie Higgins, co-director of the Eastbound bus and a rider from last year, commented, “This is the reality created by fear and misunderstanding. It saddens me that people have such hatred in their hearts, but this just demonstrates why we feel called to spread our message of the inherent worth and dignity of all human beings.”

The Equality Riders remained undeterred in their determination to bring a message of inclusion and academic freedom to Dordt College. They visited the college to have conversations with students about the college’s discriminatory policy and the harm it does to LGBT students. During the visit, Dordt’s president publicly apologized for the community’s behavior.

As the Riders on the eastbound bus were meeting with students and administrators on the Dordt College campus, the riders on the westbound bus were supporting gay students at Notre Dame who attempted to speak publicly about their experiences in the cafeteria of the student center. One Notre Dame freshman, Eddie Velasquez, was announcing further opportunities for dialogue with the Equality Riders when an administration official approached him and attempted to escort him away.

Velasquez was approached by the campus police and his information was taken down; repercussions for him and the other students are currently unknown. Six of the Equality Riders were issued trespassing warnings by Notre Dame campus police.

Throughout their two-month journey, the Equality Riders will be blogging from the buses, including the posting of video clips. To read the daily blogs go to www.soulforce.org/blogs.

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