Saturday, January 17, 2009

Equality Ride

Tonight, Jan. 17, there is going to be a program on the LOGO channel, called Equality U. This is a documentary about the Equality Ride, which has gone to Christian colleges and military schools, where students can be dismissed or expelled just for being gay. If you don't get the LOGO channel, which I don't, you can watch it streaming online, here:

In the spring of 2007 I was privileged to participate for the first time with Soulforce. To do so I drove about 5 hours to Grand Rapids, Michigan where I would be a small part of the Equality Ride. I'd read about it the year before, and sent a small donation to support Kara Speltz. Now the bus was going to be at two Christian colleges that were within driving distance of my home. I made the contacts with someone that I was coming - and I was stepping out for the first time to make myself part of the cause of equal rights.

Going up there I was not even sure what to expect. It was pretty vague what I'd be able to do, and I'd only read the accounts on the Soulforce website. I had no idea if other non-riders were going to be there, and I was still flying under the radar, not yet letting anyone know that I was going to stand up for gay rights!

In 2007 the Equality Ride was made up mostly of college-aged people, and here I was, mid-fifties! I was welcomed, but was definitely not very connected. The first evening, at Calvin College, I got to meet and talk with some of the Riders, and I knew their names and profiles from the Soulfoce website. I'd been getting postcard updates and could connect some of the names - and this was all good.

When I approached Cornerstone University, I was driving my own car. The plan was to have a candlelight vigil on a sidewalk along a busy road, and the Riders were let out on their bus. For me, I had to find a place to park. I tried using a parking lot close by, but was approached by Campus Security, with a flashlight, and asked, "Are you with this group, Soulforce?" When I answered, "yes," the officer told me, "You are not allowed to park here." I felt dismissed in a very small way, but knew that if I was there, on campus, as a parent, or even as a visitor, I'd never have been met by any kind of security, much less be told to move my car. I found a local side street and walked to the vigil site.

As we stood in a line of prayer, the candles were easily blown out by the wind. When they went out, we'd re-light them. Small points of light and fire in both the candles and the Riders. Still, in the dark, gradually some Cornerstone students began to call out, and in small groups they came, just to talk. I heard them talk about classes and about books they were reading. I heard them tell where they were from, and they began to talk about why they were there. Students had been "warned" that the bus was coming, and told not to talk with the Riders lest they be swayed to the "other side." But I also heard as some exchanged names and smiles. It was a start of communicating who each of them are - just people, and not from either "side."

The next morning I stood again in the same spot in broad daylight. It was windy, cold, and misting, and we wore emergency ponchos to try to stay warm. In the daylight mostly "official" Cornerstone faculty/administration/staff came out and it appeared that they were there to make sure that students did not approach the Equality Riders.

Throughout the morning we stood outside on the hill, praying, talking to whoever came forward, and encouraging everyone involved that God loves us all, no matter if one is gay or straight.

Eventually some of the Equality Riders stepped forward to present a literal "cornerstone." It was a stone they had made, with words of equality etched in. As the police handcuffed and arrested the young Equality Riders, I was never more proud to be standing with them.

For me, this was a start of something I had come to believe in. Personally, I have never felt the unkind words, the fear, the name-calling, or the shame for being gay. But I was PROUD to be there, in the wind, in the dark, and on the outside of the campus, alongside young people, gay and straight alike, asking for dialogue, asking to be included in Christian fellowship.

Now I am even more "out there," as I try to stand up for the rights of all and the inclusion of all. Be sure to watch this LOGO documentary, and share it with others.

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