On the first stop of a 51-day “gay-rights” bus tour aimed at bringing media attention to the non-admission policies for gays at 20 Christian colleges and military schools, 24 members of the Soulforce Equality Ride found themselves sitting in the Lynchburg, Virginia, jail, arrested for trespassing at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University and facing possible $2,500 fines and a year in jail.
The group of 35 gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, and straight 18- to 28-year-olds had been warned ahead of their arrival they would not be welcome on campus.
“It is now our firm belief that Soulforce is not acting in good faith and is simply trying to use such encounters on Christian college campuses as a media attraction and for their ultimate purpose of fundraising,” Chancellor Falwell said in a written statement.
Liberty had been targeted by an earlier version of the Equality Ride last year and has a long history of dealings with Soulforce, the homosexual group started by Mel White, a writer who once worked for Falwell.
Equality Ride is modeled after the “freedom rides” of the 1960’s civil rights movement and the group, many wearing buttons reading “Learn from history,” says its cause is the same as ending racial discrimination was a generation ago.
“It just so happens that now the other and the outcast are [gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered] people,” Monica Carmean, 20, a self-described Christian, straight ally from Northwestern University told the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
“We want to come to the school today to say, ‘Learn from history,'” Equality Ride’s co-director, Jacob Reitan, 23, of Eden Prairie, Minn., told the crowd. “We have a right to be here, because this school teaches that being gay is being sick and sinful. We have a right to question and to show how we are children of God.”
Their ranks swelled by local supporters, the 80 homosexual-rights demonstrators were met by a wall of campus police as they walked onto campus in single file, each reading from written statements. When they ignored Liberty campus police warnings to leave private property, 24 were handcuffed and arrested without incident. Two face additional charges of inciting to trespass.
Soulforce members told the Advocate, a homosexual newspaper, they had not intended to be arrested and had simply hoped to talk to Liberty students.
With 19 schools yet to go, Equality Ride may find the cost of putting up bail and paying fines a strain on the project’s budget. Equality Ride’s founder, Reitan expressed pride over those who confronted Liberty University and were arrested, but says he’s hoping for “productive dialogue” at the remaining stops.
“I hope that schools down the road won’t make the same choice that Liberty made,” Reitan said.
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