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by Rachel Loskill
The first sign through the door at the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Springfield, Mo., read: “We are a Welcoming Congregation to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) persons, as well as to all persons – from all walks of life – who seek a church to call home.”
My friend Robin and I read the sign together as we walked into the church. Robin turned to me and told me she had never stepped foot into a church that was welcoming to the GLBT community. I began to cry. I began to cry because that moment encompassed one of the reasons why I am on this journey. Many people of the GLBT community have been forced out of, or felt like they had to leave the place they worship because of the tension that seems to exist between sexual orientation and religion. As an Equality Rider, I am coming forth with the message that it is possible to be a person of faith and identify as GLBT.
Going to the Unitarian Universalist Church was a rejuvenating experience. Before we stepped inside, I felt at home and at peace by the rainbow flag outside the congregation. We sang with members of the congregation and they blessed us all. As I am traveling farther from familiarity, it felt amazing to be welcomed with open arms.
The most intense part of this trip so far has been how quickly the atmosphere changes between where we are welcome and where we are not. Yes, this constant change in environment happens all the time for some members of the GLBT community. However, living in Southfield and East Lansing, I know where the safe spaces are. More than anything, there are safe havens.
Dordt College was the first stop on the Eastbound Bus. In the morning we awoke to our bus defaced. We hadn’t even stepped foot onto our first campus. It was evident that there were people who were not welcoming our presence in Iowa. Equality Riders continued onto campus with pride. We were then welcomed by many hosts who chose to spend their day with all of the Equality Riders. Most of the day was spent in the student center, having intense conversations about faith, love and humanity. Equality Riders joined Dordt students and faculty at chapel. Some members of the Equality Ride gave a presentation, and then there was a panel later on in the day. The people who spoke on behalf of Dordt had PowerPoint presentations and slide shows about sexual orientation and the message of the bible. Bram, Katie and Jarrett were the Equality Riders who spoke from their heart about faith and identity.
Dordt College welcomed us onto campus. Currently we are in Missouri and about go onto Central Bible College, where they are not welcoming us onto campus. Again, the atmosphere changes so quickly. Partly it is because we are on the road and not staying in a city more than a few nights. One moment we will all be together and a person passing by will scream horrible words and messages at us. The next moment, we find ourselves engaged in conversation with a student who is incredibly interested and accepting of who we are and what we are doing on the road.
It is the positive experiences and the interactions with students that make this journey worth the rough times. I think about the students at Dordt College who expressed how Equality Riders really gave them a new perspective of faith that they could not dismiss. I cherish every thank you and blessing we receive while on the road.