The Soulforce Equality Ride has traveled around the country since 2006, visiting 50 schools that ban or discriminate against openly LGBT students. They attempt to take part in worship services and bible studies, and hold panels to work with administrators to reconsider their policies and become welcoming institutions. The riders are not always greeted with open arms. On a stop the other day in West Palm Beach, the Equality Ride bus was vandalized, and some riders were arrested on the campus of the chapel of Palm Beach Atlantic University.

The Equality Riders were immediately restricted to the far side of the sidewalk and were greeted by an organized group of parents. During the conversations that ensued, a few students did join the group and one came out as a lesbian who is in her first year at PBAU. She was able to speak firsthand about the lack of safety that is provided for her as a lesbian on campus, which affirms Soulforce Q’s reasons for visiting the Christian school.

At 11:00 am EST, the sixteen Equality Riders walked to the DeSantis Family Chapel doors and were confronted by city police at the doors. School officials read a statement that barred the young adults from participating in the worship service with the students with whom they had been talking. A similar statement followed from the West Palm Beach Police Department. Inspired by the conversations that they had with students during a picnic hosted by the Equality Ride on Sunday, the Riders moved forward with good faith that they would be allowed into Chapel.

As ten of the Riders were turned away, six remained and were arrested, one by one. Those arrested were Jarrett Lucas, 22, from Philadelphia, Danielle Cooper, 19, from Maplewood, NJ, Lauren Parke, 25, from Seattle, Enzi Tanner, 24, from Minneapolis, Nicholas Rocco DeFinis, 22, from Lansdale, PA, and Zak Rittenhouse, 21, from Frankfort, OH. Students looked on as the young adults were placed in handcuffs and moved into a police van.

The remaining Equality Riders are still standing vigil and speaking with students on the corner of S. Olive Avenue and Okeechobee Road. They will remain there until 4:00 pm EST. The arrested young adults are scheduled to go before a magistrate Tuesday morning.

Today’s visit to PBAU comes after a night of harassment for participants of the Equality Ride. Sunday evening, the glass door of the bus was bashed in with a hard object. Two panes of glass were shattered and small portions of the vinyl wrap were scratched off. A police report of the incident was filed.

Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding

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