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Soulforce Equality Riders head for home
Nationwide effort affects change across country

by Page Schilt

Equality Riders onboard the eastern route make a stop at Gordon College in Wenham, Mass. Photo: Adam Britt
On April 26, 52 Soulforce Equality Riders bid farewell to the massive buses that served as their surrogate home for eight weeks on the road. Emblazoned with the slogan “Faith Forward Social Justice for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender People,” the two buses carried these remarkable young adults to 32 Christian colleges on two separate routes.

They began and ended in Minneapolis, but traveled as far as the Pacific Northwest and the Atlantic Southeast on their mission to start conversations about faith, sexuality, and inclusion.

Now the buses have stopped rolling, but the impact of the 2007 Equality Ride is still unfolding across the nation.

All of the colleges on the 2007 Equality Ride have policies that silence or exclude LGBT students.

But while discrimination is the common thread, the schools exhibited a wide variety of responses to the Equality Riders’ invitation to create a public dialogue about the experiences of LGBT students.

Negotiations with prospective schools began last October. Some schools welcomed the Riders’ diverse perspectives, some set narrow limitations on the Riders’ campus access, and others went so far as to ban them from campus.

In the end, the Riders suffered more than 100 trespassing arrests in order to bring a message of hope and justice to every school on both routes.

But while arrests provide one indicator of the Riders’ commitment, the Ride’s lasting impact at the schools can be measured in other ways:

• Six of the schools on this year’s route have new gay-straight alliances.

• An unofficial LGBT support group at Pepperdine University has been granted a new hearing on achieving official group status.

• At Baylor University, students have started a petition asking the institution to review its policy on “homosexual behavior.”

• At University of Notre Dame, the gay and lesbian alumni network has called for a boycott on giving to their alma mater.

• Seattle and New York City proclaimed April 11 and April 14, respectively, as the official Soulforce Equality Ride 2007 Day.

• Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, changed its policy during the course of the Equality Ride. The revised policy clarifies that the university will respond to “homosexual behavior rather than to feelings or orientation.” The previous policy had sanctioned “homosexual behavior, whether implicit or explicit.”

According to Equality Ride Co-director Haven Herrin, who organized the BYU school stop during the 2006 Equality Ride, “the policy change is a step forward. The Honor Code Office has more checks on its power to intimidate or discriminate against students. The change is a long time coming and involved the voices of students who, as they tell us, were galvanized by our stop there last year.”

Impacts on individual hearts and minds will continue to develop long after the Equality Riders have returned home. Student newspapers continue to cover students who have come out in the wake of the Equality Ride.

In cities across America, hundreds of people have now engaged in conversations about sexuality and faith because their churches, student groups and equality organizations joined Riders for meals, community service and public presentations.

At the Riders’ “Welcome Home” service in Mankato, Minn., the mother of a straight student from Bethany Lutheran College approached Herrin.

“As she cried, she told me that she was so disappointed in how they responded by arresting 10 Equality Riders,” said Herrin. “Her son came home from school that day to tell her he was transferring because he was so disgusted.

“As long as these schools, like Bethany Lutheran, continue to discriminate, they will have to face the consequences. Financially, spiritually and socially, they cannot turn away from the suffering they create.”

info: www.soulforce.org

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