NASHVILLE, Tenn. —Twelve LGBTQI activists have trained with Soulforce for nearly a year to embark on a “Beyond Equality Ride”, a two week tour of religious universities to challenge the schools’ anti-LGBTQI policies and empower youth in the South to tackle fundamentalist Christian beliefs about race, sexuality, and gender.
The route will include a few welcoming schools. School responses typically range from welcoming the Riders to speak with students on campus to calling the police.
Sara Green, a Rider from Nashville, TN, has worked for months to connect with students, administration, and community members at each of the stops on the route. “I love meeting new people and expanding my community,” says Green, 23. “I think it’s gonna be like a pilgrimage, to pay homage to all the lives of LGBTQI people who have been harmed by spiritual violence.”
The Beyond Equality Ride launches on March 13th in Nashville, TN, with a send-off ceremony and will travel through Tennessee, North Carolina, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia for two weeks, wrapping up on Easter Sunday.
With the rise of cultural fundamentalism, marginalized students at Christian college campuses have been up against considerable challenges this year. Working with Soulforce on February 9th of this year, students from Biola University (CA) and Oklahoma Baptist University protested their schools’ work to receive Title IX waivers that would protect the schools’ rights to discriminate against students, faculty, and staff based on gender identity.
Soulforce member Kit Apostolacus, a transgender student studying Biblical Studies at Eastern University, is pushing for LGBT-affirming policies on her campus. “Students should not have to advocate on their own behalf for their right to be treated in ways that affirm their dignity as humans, that encourage us to excel academically, and that promote our best mental health and social acceptance.”
59 schools have quietly and systematically applied for Title IX exemptions from the Department of Education since the end of the Defense of Marriage Act in 2015.
In five prior tours, Soulforce Equality Riders visited 101 colleges and universities. Of these schools, 21 of them have made positive changes to their homophobic and transphobic policies, such as Sanford University in Alabama and Baylor University in Texas.
The Ride, however, has not been without strife. Dozens of arrests have also occurred at the request of school administrators, and city police have worked with campus leaders to intimidate Soulforce before the organization arrives in town, as they did in Clinton, MS and Springfield, MO in 2007.
Yaz Nuñez, Soulforce’s Programs Director, notes that fear is not a driving force for this work. “When we know that our neighbors are being harmed, we become morally obligated to do the right thing. That’s our call from Leviticus 19:16. These Riders have been training — practically, theologically, spiritually, and emotionally — for months to have these hard conversations. Our people are brave, and our bodies are precious. We’re here to save lives.”
Soulforce is a 18 year old LGBTQI organization that works at the intersections of race, class, gender, sexuality, and faith. Soulforce’s goal is to end the political and religious oppression of LGBTQI people through relentless nonviolent resistance.
For all interview and quote requests from students, Riders, or Soulforce staff, contact Yaz Nuñez at firstname.lastname@example.org or 7578760208.