Gov. Gretchen Whitmer addressed the State of Michigan after a plan to kidnap her and other Michigan government officials was thwarted by state and federal law enforcement agencies. She started by saying thank you to law enforcement and FBI agents who participated in stopping this [...]
By Crystal Proxmire
TROY- It was a chance conversation at a gay bar on a Friday night while in college, that prompted Jacob Reitan to start the Soulforce Bus Tour, which brings gay students and allies to conservative college campuses to force the discussion of diversity and acceptance.
“I met this very attractive young man who told me he went to Wheaton College in Chicago, which is one of the most conservative schools in the country. So I asked him, ‘Gee what’s it like being a gay man at a conservative school?’
‘He said that no one knows about that, and he’d be thrown out if anybody knew. He said that was the school’s policy.
‘And I said, ‘Well we need to change that policy.’ And what he said next made me realize how important activism is. He said. ‘No, I think it’s a good policy. Homosexuality is a sin.’
‘So here was this young man at a gay club on a Friday night, seeking to be loved and affirmed as a person, but still believing that he was a sinner and that he couldn’t be accepted.”
Reitan told the young man that he would find a way to change the school’s policies, and to do that he joined with the Soulforce movement and created the Soulforce Equality Ride, inspired by the Freedom Rides of the 1960s. Since his first ride in 2006, the group he helped form has visited over 50 schools including Wheaton, Brigham Young and Liberty University in Lynchburg, VA.
When he spoke about his experiences as an activist at a Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion breakfast Oct. 21, he explained that the tour planners would send a letter to the schools letting them know they’d been selected as a stop on the tour, and inviting them to work with the group to set up programming for the day. Some schools gave them space and time to talk, others had them arrested on sight. Reitan has been arrested 13 times.
Someone in the audience asked if he thought the rides made a difference.
A clip of Jacob Reitan speaking, courtesy Crystal A. Proxmire
“At some of the schools we gave them an excuse to have the conversation,” Reitan said. “On the day we came there was the changing of hearts and minds…We have gone back to some and things absolutely changed. Students are now able to meet and talk about these things. Some even have GSAs and support groups now.”
In addition to talking about the Soulforce Equality Rides, Reitan talked about the rift between religion and the LGBT community, explaining why nonviolence and dialogue are the keys to changing the minds of the religious.
“The truth, on its own merit, rises to the top of any argument,” he said, pointing out that in the past five years there has been a great deal of progress in the gay rights movement. “Before five years ago we had never passed a national policy for LGBT people. Five years ago there were three recurring gay characters on national television, now there are over 100. Five years ago there was one state where gays and lesbians could be married, now there are five states, plus DC and we are going to win back California and get Maryland…The long arm of history is bending toward justice.”
There is more work to do on conservative college campuses and in the religious institutions that will not recognize same gender love. Reitan read the hateful words of religious groups which compare homosexuality to rape and murder and explained that those hateful beliefs contribute to the bullying of gay children and the suicides of those who feel like they are evil or unaccepted by society.
Just having the conversation helps. “As soon as we announced we were coming, the school newspapers announced it and it got people talking. Someone in the cafeteria would say ‘we shouldn’t have those guys on campus,’ and someone else would speak up and say “Christ maybe we should hear what they have to say.’ And then people are talking about it and allies come forward. …And from there we build relationships and understanding.”
Reitan graduated magna cum laude from Northwestern University with a Bachelors of Science degree in political science and communication studies. He currently attends Harvard Divinity School on a Harvard Presidential Scholarship where he is pursuing his Masters in Theological Studies. To find out more about Reitan and the Soulforce Equality Rides, go to their website http://www.soulforce.org/programs/equality-ride.
For more on the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity, which is celebrating its 70 anniversary this year, go to http://www.miroundtable.org.