Arts & Entertainment
Equality Riders speak truth to hatred
Michigan's Chad Grandy among the participants
By Dawn Wolfe Gutterman
Originally printed 3/2/2006 (Issue 1409 - Between The Lines News)
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Beginning on March 10, thirty young activists will repeat a piece of civil rights history. However, the Equality Ride isn't a re-enactment of the Freedom Rides of the 1950s and 1960s. Rather than speaking truth to power in the deep South, the 2006 Equality Riders will speak truth to the hatred disguised as Christian doctrine and public policy at conservative Christian colleges and military academies across the country.
The Equality Ride is sponsored by Soulforce, a national organization pledged to bringing about, "Freedom for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people from religious and political oppression through the practice of relentless nonviolence."
Twenty-year-old Triangle Foundation Board of Directors member Chad Grandy will be among the Riders.
The Equality Ride will be a new step for Grandy, who said that he has been out and active since the age of 16.
The Ride "has a national view behind it - everything I've done so far has been either local or statewide," Grandy, who became a leader in Central Michigan University's Gay/Straight Alliance as a duel-enrolled high-schooler, said.
"I like the fact that I will be doing something that will encompass a larger group of people and giving voice to the students who are at the school and can't come out themselves," he said. "I've had a lot of friends who are closeted while I was out, so I'm following that tradition. It's just an experience to help me grow to be a better activist."
After a week of non-violence training in Washington beginning on March 5, Grandy and the other Riders will begin their journey with a stop at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. School Chancellor the Reverend Jerry Falwell, who according to Soulforce once, "called the Civil Rights movement the Civil 'Wrong' movement,'" has promised to have the Riders arrested on their arrival.
"It befuddled me why there is such fear and entrenchment about having a discussion with us," said Haven Herrin, Equality Ride co-director. "There's just no threat that we pose. I guess he feels it's a symbolic stand on his part."
Despite the threat of arrest, Herrin said, "Yes, we will go on. We will not be deterred. We will not let Jerry Falwell determine the framework of this discussion."
Soulforce founder and president, Reverend Dr. Mel White, said of Falwell's stance, "It is one thing for an average parishioner to discriminate against a gay person and say it is based on their religious beliefs. That's ignorance. But it is quite another thing for someone who has the title of Reverend and is a leader. Falwell is abusing religion now just as he did in the past."
From Lynchburg, the Freedom Riders will visit schools including the U.S. Air Force and Military academies, Oklahoma Baptist University, Bethel University, and Brigham Young University. Jason & Demarco, a gay Christian pop duo, will join the Riders for a concert during their stop at Lee University in Cleveland, Tennessee.
An anonymous letter from a current Liberty student, which is among many letters from students and alumni on the Equality Ride website, illustrates the dilemmas faced by students who are forced to stay in the closet in order to complete their educations.
"I know if my family found out they would disown me and defiantly not help me pay for college. I have heard stories about someone at Liberty finding out another student was gay and the school telling the person's parents. That scares me to death," wrote the student, who identifies himself as a gay male. "I go to school here because it is the only school my parents will pay for."
Another student, a gay male at Bethel University, said that his roommate, "once said he would hunt me down if he ever found out that I was gay."
"I want to transfer out, but I would have to redo too many classes, and it would cost too much," the letter continues. Nor can this student probably expect much support in such a transfer from his parents who, according to his letter, told him he was "going to Hell," when he came out to them.
"I appreciate the equality riders and Soulforce," said an anonymous letter from a lesbian at "a Military Service Academy." "Thanks for your inspiring efforts. I hope that I can also help out, in my own way, from the inside."
Support the Equality Ride
The Equality Ride is still raising funds for this historic journey. Donors can sponsor individual riders, like Michigan's Chad Grandy, to help them defray the costs of the trip. Sponsors who give $50 or more will receive postcards from the road, and those who "adopt" a rider for a donation of $3,000 or more will "receive postcards from every stop, a copy of the Equality Ride documentary (when it is released), and a personalized photo scrapbook of the journey," according to the Equality Ride website. For more information or to donate visit http://www.equalityride.com/riders or call Jacob Reitan, Equality Ride co-director, at 952-212-8311.