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Soulforce update on bus vandalism in Iowa

The Soulforce riders give an update on the defacing of the tour bus that was discovered earlier today.

On the opening day of Equality Ride 2007, the 50 young Riders faced grim reminders of why they are on 2 buses, headed for 32 Christian colleges with policies that silence or exclude lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students. Last night the eastbound bus made its first stop in Sioux Center, IA, where Riders were harassed at their hotel.  This 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 7th, three vehicles circled the hotel where the Equality Riders were staying, harassing the young adults who were staying 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 f****.”

Last year, the Equality Ride received a similar welcome in Cleveland, TN.  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 Notre Dame students who took part are currently unknown. Six of the Equality Riders were issued trespassing warnings by Notre Dame campus police.

Later this evening, Carrie Call of St. Mary’s College is hosting the Equality Riders along with PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), students from St. Mary’s College and Notre Dame, and gay community members from South Bend for an evening of entertainment and presentations.

At 10 am on Friday, March 9, the riders will hold a second press conference at the main gate of Notre Dame (intersection of Notre Dame Ave. and Angela/Edison). Directly after the press conference, the riders and students will present a wreath to the Tom Dooley Statue located on campus. Tom Dooley was a gay military hero who was discharged under the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. At the statue, riders will hold a vigil and partake in the St. Francis prayer and song. Many of the riders who have been issued trespassing warnings will be taking part in this ceremony. Arrests are likely. 

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, transgender people.

Visit the ride’s Blogging from the Bus page.

You can donate to InterstateQ here, and to Soulforce’s Equality Ride here.

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