Editor's Note: On May 2, Richard Lindsay '04 M.Div. and 32 other young adults completed the Soulforce Equality Ride—a 51-day, cross-country sojourn to 19 colleges and universities across the country to challenge religion-based discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students. Lindsay served as media coordinator for the Equality Ride and, as the only seminary graduate in the group, provided theological and biblical expertise. Following are his reflections on the trip.
By Richard Lindsay '04 M.Div.
Equality Ride 2006 followed in the footsteps of the Freedom Rides of the 1960's, emphasizing the parallels between the history of religion-based discrimination against women, people of color and people of non-Christian faiths and modern-day discrimination toward LGBT people. This 51-day, cross-country bus trip to 19 colleges and universities was sponsored by Soulforce —an interfaith organization founded by former religious right ghostwriter Mel White that uses relentless nonviolent resistance in the style of Gandhi and King to fight discrimination against LGBT people.
Most of the campuses visited on the Ride, including Wheaton College, Azusa Pacific University and Abilene Christian University, are evangelical Christian schools, although we also visited the Air Force Academy, West Point and Texas A&M (which has high ROTC enrollment) to speak to cadets about the military's 'Don't Ask Don't Tell' policy.
Despite having official policies that call for expulsion of openly gay students, several of the schools welcomed us, offering the chance for meals with students, meetings with faculty and administrators, and presentations in classes and special assemblies. We participated in discussions around such diverse themes as the Bible and homosexuality, portrayals of LGBT people in the media, family counseling, business ethics and American history. At Wheaton College, I was one of three Soulforce presenters at a panel that drew more than 2,000 students.
It was a life-changing experience. We had the opportunity to speak with the next generation of evangelicals about this important issue, and the good news is that even in conservative Christian communities views about gay people are changing for the better.
A particularly moving presentation given at all the schools where we were allowed on campus was the "History of Violence," a review of violence done in the name of religion from the Inquisition and the crusades, through slavery and segregation, to modern-day violence against people of different races, religions and sexual orientations. The final account given in the presentation included the testimony of Equality Rider Pam Disel, who was brutally beaten in Hawaii by a homophobic attacker.
Seven of the 19 schools on the Ride, which concluded May 2, did not allow open dialogue on their campuses. When we faced this obstacle, we made a commitment to find a way to raise the issues of LGBT young people with students, even if it meant committing acts of civil disobedience.
Riders were arrested for trespassing as they attempted to speak to students on campus who had come out to talk to them at Liberty University and Regent University, Virginia schools founded by televangelists Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, respectively. At Brigham Young University, Equality Riders participated in a 'die-in,' stepping onto campus one-by-one and falling to the ground before being arrested to call attention to the high suicide rate among LGBT Mormons. At the service academies, Riders were arrested for attempting to present a check for signing to the commanders of the schools for $350 million, the amount taxpayers have spent training and replacing service members who have been discharged for being gay or lesbian. Over the course of the 51 days, there were 99 arrests of Equality Riders as well as community members and students who had joined in support of our cause.
I had so many amazing conversations with fellow Christians who, even if they did not agree with me at first, were willing to walk a mile in my shoes and listen to my story as a gay person of faith. When you find yourself at that place where people are willing to check their personal prejudices for a moment and really listen to each other—at the risk of undergoing irreversible change—you are standing on holy ground.