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Update on Soulforce Equality Ride

Blender Bearnaked Joe has been following the travels of the good folks of Soulforce as they continue their 51-day Equality Ride to conservative/religious campuses across the country to discuss LGBT rights issues with students — as people of faith. Their simple goal is to hold dialogue with people at these hostile places, and it has been tough going so far.

You’ll recall that they were first booted from Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University, arrested, cuffed and sent to the pokey by Rev. Tinkywinky’s goons. A firsthand account by one of those arrested, House Blender Matt Hill Comer, a fellow Tar Heel, is here. Matt is also posting regularly on the Equality Ride’s progress.

The next stop on the Ride was Pat Robertson-affiliated Regent University, and things got way out of control on the police front. Apparently a couple dozen peaceful homos present a threat that requires this level of police response:

What it takes to arrest a few gay folks of faith.

One rider, Kayla Bonewell, described the reception at Regent, and the outrageous farce that students were kept from leaving the campus to speak with members of Soulforce.

yesterday we arrived at pat robertson’s regent university to face a closed down campus surrounded by more police (via foot, vehicle, horse, and helicopter) than were riders. we stood on the sidewalk beyond campus property in a silent vigil, holding up literature, waiting to welcome dialogue with any students who might venture off campus to speak with us. when students began to come our way, the police stopped them. i am not sure what the police told the students, but it must have been effective because the students did not feel able to continue on their way to speak with us.

She was later able to attend a bible study with some Regent students, found it to be a welcoming environment where there was positive discussion. The riders returned to the Regent campus the next day, and look at what happened.

today we returned with further intention to dialogue with students. students wanted to talk with us and we wanted to talk with students. before we could even cross the steet towards regent university, about 7 or so regent students (the same who had spent time with us at the bible study) walked up and down the line of riders. they embraced each one of us with tears, sometimes bowing on their knees, and asking forgiveness from us on behalf of all christians who have ever contributed to the horrible names, violence, and wounds that we have suffered from the christian community.

…as we continued toward the campus, there were more police on site today than yesterday. a new yellow tape was wrapped around the campus property, a visible line that the police were there to protect. we again stood in singing vigil. when we saw students in the distance, 6 of our riders announced that they were going over to speak with the regent students. on their way over, all were arrested. it was a miserable picture to watch, students being denied access to peacefully speak with other students. after our riders were taken off campus we boarded our bus and left regent university.

i have never seen as many police in my life. how could 32 proven peaceful young adults pose such a threat to regent?

A story in the Virginian-Pilot confirms Kayla’s observations about the police presence and the arrests. Bearnaked Joe pretty much sums up the obscenity of the “response” of Regent with the armed police overkill.

Let me tell you, you do not need at least two dozen cops, a helicopter, a “Marine Patrol Dive Team,” several vehicles, and a police chaplain to keep the peace. Last fall I witnessed about fifty anti-war protesters – some very hostile – across the street from 200 pro-Bush supporters – many just as hostile – kept at peace with a handful of DC police. Even in this tense situation peaceful people were still allowed to cross the lines to speak with one another. Just what kind of information did Virginia Beach police “get” that would inspire them to all but call out the national guard and prohibit students from peaceful interaction?

The religious Right is calling out all the stops in order to portray Soulforce as some invading violent protest group. Now homosexuals must be kept out by force if necessary. What’s next?

Remember, Soulforce has made visits like this in the past to Christian campuses without incident and with great open success. It’s one of the reasons Falwell came down so hard this year and had folks arrested — last year, Liberty students went out of their way to welcome the Soulforce members with refreshments and dialogue. He had to shut it down this time around, claiming “Liberty has an obligation to these parents not to expose their children to a ‘media circus’ that might present immorality in a positive light.”

You can see next stops on The Equality Ride Route. The riders will be going to Lee University, in Cleveland, TN tomorrow and Friday.

Dr. Paul Conn, president of Lee University, has decided not to allow us a sponsored forum to hold a panel discussion on his campus. However we are permitted on campus and allowed to give speeches outside and speak to students who wish to converse with us.

You can read a touching letter sent to Soulforce by a gay former student at Lee.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding