Friday, April 23, 2010

Union College

Union College
I’m so sick to my stomach. I’m trying to sleep on the bus but the echoes of the voices of these students still bounce in my head. You know, I did this so that I could be a voice for those silenced, to be the tough hide for those that need to burrow in my skin. In my mind I know that I could take the beatings. I never questioned my strength or muscle. I’ll spread the message that God loves all, no matter what. That queer people aren’t sick and sinful. That hatred, discrimination, and the marginalizing and oppressing of this beautiful group of people are the real sins. And then I end up speaking against racism, and ableism, and sexism. But it’s the racism that gets me most of all.

For the past three stops we’ve been in the Mid-west. SBU really left me with a sour taste in my mouth and I haven’t been the same since. A white college student writes to me and tells me that she’s not racist and that it’s not their fault that they have an apathetic minority population. This is after I explained why this comment (previously from someone else’s mouth) was racist. How can I have hope for our queer siblings on this campus if the campus can’t even grasp the concept of discrimination in the first place?

So I carried this into Union College yesterday. We sat in small groups and the facilitator took over 15 minutes of our precious hour with students (that administration had so graciously allotted) going over rules of conversation. I felt the pressure of having to condense a two hour conversation with one person into a half hour conversation with 12 people. As soon as one girl said “lifestyle choice” I thought I was about to lose it. I tried to explain why this wasn’t appropriate, but she had a response for everything I said. My body literally felt like it was disconnecting with my mind. That’s when I knew I had reached my limit. In my head I thought, If it’s so damn appropriate why don’t straight people use it to describe their relationships? Ugh. Somehow I pushed through to the end answering questions with responses that I knew only led to more questions that we didn’t have time to address. Who do we point the finger at? The administration and faculty that don’t talk about these topics in school, that perpetuate stereotypes and offensive language, and that shut the door when opportunities present themselves? In my opinion the fault also lies on these students. They are old enough to read the Scripture themselves, to look up resources, to get various opinions on the matter, to make friends with that queer person on campus, to ask questions…instead they hold to their parents’ and pastors’ out-dated bigoted beliefs without verifying any information on their own. Without getting to know the person. Is it so scary to befriend your enemy? You might learn that the enemy is misinformation.

A choice. Yeah, a choice. I choose to be with the person that I fall madly in love with. The person that locks eyes on me from across the room to give me strength when I’m scared. The person that I will hold at night when their past comes to haunt their dreams. The person that I will bicker with when we’re short on money. The person I will laugh with until late at night because what they say and how they say it tickles me on the inside and I haven’t laughed this hard in all my life it seems. The person that will be there the day we adopt our child and bring them home to be nurtured with all the love of two mothers. The person that will hold my hand and give me strength if someday a doctors’ words don’t seem to make sense. The person that as we grow will smile at me because walking slowly through the supermarket is our favorite thing to do.

Passions? What passions. You don’t marry a person because the only thing you feel is passion (or at least not in the case of the people I know). You marry them because they are your perfect fit. Because when the world confuses or frustrates you that person is the only person that is capable of doing the only thing that will soften your heart and at the same time strengthen your core. You marry them because you see a beautiful future together. Because when heart is against heart you swear they share a beat. Because when you look into their eyes there just isn’t anyone else, period, ever. You marry and when parents pass away and family moves away, you know you will not endure it alone. You know this in every breath of your being, you don’t need a paper from the court.

I see my friends on the Ride and it hurts me the things they have endured. I’d rather take it on myself than see it one more time poured on them. Cait and Jennifer, may God bless your union. Don’t justify your relationship and your love to anyone. You both are beautiful and your smiles are contagious. Mia, my brave and courageous friend. I don’t have words for how you empower the rest of us to walk proudly. My dearest Amanda, I weep my apologies on behalf of the world to you… Big brother Nick, who reminds us of what true friendship and service and love is every day. I could go on, but I’m already crying. How can people see this suffering, know they are a part of it, and continue hurting people?

What kind of society do we live in where we walk past homeless people without looking at them? Without handing them a quarter and a smile? What kind of faith do we have when we look at people that are marginalized and oppressed with indifference and apathy? How presumptuous are we to tell others how they should love and with who? What kind of Christians are we that if Jesus walked through our airport today he would be flagged as a potential terrorist and pulled aside to be interrogated? What have we become? Tearing at each other, beating each other with stones and words, and closing our minds to the experiences of others simply because we don’t understand. Wasn’t this one of the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah? Maybe God should come and wipe us away and start over. I’m sad. I’m disheartened. It is painful to watch my siblings be torn down, ridiculed, called sick, and detestable to God. Who is speaking these words? Because my God, my Christ, instructed me to persevere for justice for the minority, for the marginalized, for those oppressed. Jesus taught me that we lose ourselves in the details of the law and forget that the most important thing is to love God with everything you have, and love your neighbor AS YOURSELF. How did we come so far from God that even our definitions of what love is differs from person to person and from perceived sin to perceived sin? How is it that we preach not to judge and yet we can’t see past the color of someone’s skin, the way they look, or who they claim to love?

When was the last time we admitted fault and took our fair share of responsibility in what is wrong with the world today?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Media Advisory for Bethel College, Indiana

For Immediate Release

(Mishawaka, IN) – Today and Yesterday, the 2010 Soulforce Q Equality Ride visited Bethel College, bringing a message of hope and affirmation for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people. The thirteenth stop on the traveling forum’s fifteen college tour, Equality Riders were allowed limited and scheduled access to students, faculty, and staff throughout the day yesterday and are on campus today for more informal dialogue at the school coffee shop, Sufficient Grounds.
The Equality Ride is a national bus tour to faith-based colleges that have policies that discriminate against LGBTQ people. The 18 to 29-year-old Equality Riders advocate safe educational settings for all students, including those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer.
On Friday, April 16th, the Soulforce Q Equality Riders arrived at Bethel College where they were greeted by a group of select student, faculty, and staff “hosts.” Following a brief gathering with those campus members, Riders attended chapel with students and then spent the rest of the day attending and participating in classes, and dialoguing in scheduled small and large group settings.
“I was very glad we were on campus but was disheartened by some of the hurtful things that were said and the unwillingness of faculty and administration to reconsider any of their positions," said Equality Rider and Bethel stop planner Nick Miller. “This is one of the only schools where it seemed like we couldn’t even agree that LGBTQ students deserved a safe space to be free from judgment and the ability to openly discuss their gender and sexuality. It was as though we were being asked to ‘agree to disagree’ on grave issues like LGBTQ youth suicide, spiritual abuse, and the devastating effects of the almost universally condemned ‘reparative therapy’ still widely endorsed by Bethel. Although campus leaders purported to be ready and excited about this conversation, it soon became clear that there was no room for consideration of an affirming view or even finding compromises to make all students feel more welcome, and that LGBTQ students on campus will continue to be asked to suffer in silence.”
Riders returned today to debrief with administration about the day on campus by sharing concerns about the treatment of and policies concerning LGBTQ students on campus and offering important and concrete ways to make the campus safer for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer students, faculty and staff. Riders are also spending several hours at the campus coffee house, Sufficient Grounds, for informal dialogue with members of the campus community.
The Equality Ride bus is on the road through April 24, 2010, bringing dialogue, hope, and change to schools across the country. Future stops include:
April 21 Union College Lincoln, NE
April 23 Malone University Canton, OH

Soulforce Q is the young adult division of Soulforce, a social justice organization that works to end political and religious oppression of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people through relentless nonviolent resistance. For more information, go to

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Unpacking the White Knapsack


Most white, middle-class citizens see society from a monocultural perspective, a perspective that assumes, often unconsciously, that persons of all races are in the same cultural system together. This single-system form of seeing the world, is blind to its own cultural specificity. People who see persons of other races monoculturally cannot imagine the reality that those "others" think of themselves not in relation to the majority race but in terms of their own culturally specific identities. This paper presents an "interactive phase theory" with regard to race that is intended to reassess school curricula in terms of heightened levels of consciousness concerning race.

from Dr. Peggy McIntosh, Wellesley College Center for Research on Women... "I had been taught about racism as something which puts others at a disadvantage, but had been taught not to see one of its corollary aspects, white privilege... "I have come to see white privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets which I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was 'meant' to remain oblivious. White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, assurances, tools, maps, guides, code books, passports, visas, clothes, compass, emergency gear and blank checks. "Whites are taught to think of their lives as morally neutral, formative and average, and also ideal, so that when we work to benefit others, this is seen as work which will allow 'them' to be more like 'us.'" Dr. McIntosh has named some of the ways of white privilege:

1. I can if I wish arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time.

2. I can avoid spending time with people whom I was trained to mistrust and who have learned to mistrust my kind or me.

3. If I should need to move, I can be pretty sure of renting or purchasing housing in an area which I can afford and in which I would want to live.

4. I can be pretty sure that my neighbors in such a location will be neutral or pleasant to me.

5. I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.

6. I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.

7. When I am told about our national heritage or about "civilization," I am shown that people of my color made it what it is.

8. I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the existence of their race.

9. If I want to, I can be pretty sure of finding a publisher for this piece on white privilege.

10. I can be pretty sure of having my voice heard in a group in which I am the only member of my race.

11. I can be casual about whether or not to listen to another person's voice in a group in which s/he is the only member of his/her race.

12. I can go into a music shop and count on finding the music of my race represented, into a supermarket and find the staple foods which fit with my cultural traditions, into a hairdresser's shop and find someone who can cut my hair.

13. Whether I use checks, credit cards or cash, I can count on my skin color not to work against the appearance of financial reliability.

14. I can arrange to protect my children most of the time from people who might not like them.

15. I do not have to educate my children to be aware of systemic racism for their own daily physical protection.

16. I can be pretty sure that my children's teachers and employers will tolerate them if they fit school and workplace norms; my chief worries about them do not concern others' attitudes toward their race.

17. I can talk with my mouth full and not have people put this down to my color.

18. I can swear, or dress in second hand clothes, or not answer letters, without having people attribute these choices to the bad morals, the poverty or the illiteracy of my race.

19. I can speak in public to a powerful male group without putting my race on trial.

20. I can do well in a challenging situation without being called a credit to my race.

21. I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.

22. I can remain oblivious of the language and customs of persons of color who constitute the world's majority without feeling in my culture any penalty for such oblivion.

23. I can criticize our government and talk about how much I fear its policies and behavior without being seen as a cultural outsider.

24. I can be pretty sure that if I ask to talk to the "person in charge", I will be facing a person of my race.

25. If a traffic cop pulls me over or if the IRS audits my tax return, I can be sure I haven't been singled out because of my race.

26. I can easily buy posters, post-cards, picture books, greeting cards, dolls, toys and children's magazines featuring people of my race.

27. I can go home from most meetings of organizations I belong to feeling somewhat tied in, rather than isolated, out-of-place, outnumbered, unheard, held at a distance or feared.

28. I can be pretty sure that an argument with a colleague of another race is more likely to jeopardize her/his chances for advancement than to jeopardize mine.

29. I can be pretty sure that if I argue for the promotion of a person of another race, or a program centering on race, this is not likely to cost me heavily within my prsent setting, eben if my colleagues disagree with me.

30. If I declare there is a racial issue at hand, or there isn't a racial issue at hand, my race will lend me more credibility for either position than a person of color will have.

31. I can choose to ignore developments in minority writing and minority activist programs, or disparage them, or learn from them, but in any case, I can find ways to be more or less protected from negative consequences of any of these choices.

32. My culture gives me little fear about ignoring the perspectives and powers of people of other races.

33. I am not made acutely aware that my shape, bearing or body odor will be taken as a reflection on my race.

34. I can worry about racism without being seen as self-interested or self-seeking.

35. I can take a job with an affirmative action employer without having my co-workers on the job suspect that I got it because of my race.

36. If my day, week or year is going badly, I need not ask of each negative episode or situation whether it had racial overtones.

37. I can be pretty sure of finding people who would be willing to talk with me and advise me about my next steps, professionally.

38. I can think over many options, social, political, imaginative or professional, without asking whether a person of my race would be accepted or allowed to do what I want to do.

39. I can be late to a meeting without having the lateness reflect on my race.

40. I can choose public accommodation without fearing that people of my race cannot get in or will be mistreated in the places I have chosen.

41. I can be sure that if I need legal or medical help, my race will not work against me.

42. I can arrange my activities so that I will never have to experience feelings of rejection owing to my race.

43. If I have low credibility as a leader I can be sure that my race is not the problem.

44. I can easily find academic courses and institutions which give attention only to people of my race.

45. I can expect figurative language and imagery in all of the arts to testify to experiences of my race.

46. I can choose blemish cover or bandages in "flesh" color and have them more or less match my skin.

47. I can travel alone or with my spouse without expecting embarrassment or hostility in those who deal with us.

48. I have no difficulty finding neighborhoods where people approve of our household.

49. My children are given texts and classes which implicitly support our kind of family unit and do not turn them against my choice of domestic partnership.

50. I will feel welcomed and "normal" in the usual walks of public life, institutional and social.

"Having described this, what will we each do to lessen this imbalance of power and privilege? Will we choose to use our arbitrarily-awarded power to try to re-construct power systems?'

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Southwest Baptist University

It might be safe to say that the Riders as a whole, walked away from Southwest Baptist University disturbed and sick to our stomachs. I first have to apologize for anything offensive I may say, but after 13 schools where I have endured racism, sexism, homophobia, masogynism, classism, ageism, and different oppressions I am tired of having patience. SBU, while not the worst school in terms of welcome and friendliness, for me were absolutely clueless in regards to systems of oppression, racism, sexism...I can go on.

Where do I begin?

We arrived at the school about 10 minutes early and as we were getting off the bus students, faculty, staff, and administrators began pouring out of the front doors to greet us. It immediately put a smile on my face. BSU was Amanda's stop and in my heart I wanted everything to go so well, knowing she had worked very hard along with the school to schedule the day. As I shook hands and introduced myself to a group of smiling faces, my host for the day, Revecca, found me and Jennifer Luu. Not all schools feel the need to pair the Riders up with student or faculty "hosts", but there have been a few schools that do that. I don't mind. Sometimes it really works out, like it did for me yesterday. I thought Revecca, a staff member in the Physical Therapy department, was smart and friendly a wonderful listener and I greatly enjoyed her company. It always takes me a moment to try to gauge who I'm paired with because schools have done some devious things, like tell their hosts not to bother to engage in debate with us because we are so well "trained" that it would be futile. Yeah, just some really dumb things that hurt any type of relationship even before it begins. Jennifer and I chatted with Revecca for a while, explained Preferred Pronoun Preferences, talked about past campus visits, and discussed the intersections of oppression...all before lunch!

We talked a little bit with faculty and administrators and had coffee and then we all walked to chapel. I really believe that's where all problems began. The service was atrocious. Apparently there was a guest speaker and none of the administrators wanted to take responsibility for the awful things this person said, instead passing the buck or shirking responsibility. I'll paint a picture. As soon as I walked into this huge auditorium there was metal christian rock playing. I was happily surprised. It was lively and fun. We settled down. I sat near Amanda and other fellow Riders and took a moment away from my amazing host to enjoy service. Then a band came on and started singing and playing music. While it was nice I was painfully aware of the lack of representation of people of color. Nothing ethnic whatsoever except for a very offensive shout out of something like "let's begin the Natives are getting restless". It only got worse. A picture of Black babies came on the huge flatscreens and a speaker came out to give a sermon (lecture?). He talked about how he had just come from (Sudan?) and saw how little girls as young as age 8 were exploited, and went into great detail about how often they were used in an hour and daily...and then in the next sentence called that same exploited child a "whore". I almost vomited. Then the very next moment he was saying that people do worse things than that in their heads. What? I was so offended and disgusted and still couldn't understand why there were pictures of Black children on the screen and a White speaker that obviously had no idea what he was talking about (and from comments from the students later that day, they had no idea what he was talking about either). Another huge problem we saw was the "sermon's" emphasis on missionary work. The speaker (sorry I can't remember the name) said that the decision wasn't about whether to go, but whether you should stay. And as I spoke to more people and realized their absolute lack of understanding of other races/ethnicities and cultures...and given missionary works' legacy of cultural genocide and destruction of whole peoples...throwing these kids into this type of work without any type of sensitivity training (what's that?) was disturbing to us. I wanted to get out of there. And I like missionary work! I think it's a great idea to get involved in your world. But not the way SBU is doing it. Not with kids that at 19 and 20 years old are asking questions like, "well, isn't White a color too?" After the awful speech/sermon there was more music full of sexist and ableist offensive language. There was a "boys'" part followed by a "girl's" part and the lyrics were all about "standing for God". Clearly, they don't think about their students who may have trouble with this wording. As one of our Riders uses a wheelchair, they have helped us become more aware of the language we use. I try to tell myself that the school allowing us on campus was a big step in the right direction, but I'm not sure. They are absolutely clueless about how to overcome any type of oppression in their own school although they have been in business for 132 years.

Between chapel and lunch we stopped at the "quad" by the fountain and talked with students. I was approached by a really wonderful young man and his friend and although I am going to respect our conversation, I at least want to commend this person for opening their heart and trusting me with some very confidential information about his past and opening himself up through dialogue to reveal his pain about the racism that permeates SBU. Frankly, I was pissed off when he said that people "look away" when he passes by and then he shared his pessimism that the school could ever change. It saddened my heart and told him that we were here to talk about all forms of oppression and discrimination and that even though he couldn't make it to the panel (the only event opened to all students) I would make sure to speak up for him.

We moved on to lunch after that. Round tables with 6 or 7 people and some really great food. I was hoping to begin engaging in some real dialogue about LGBTQ issues at my table, but I just so happened to sit with Kurt, the Chapel Director, and DJ (bless her heart) blurted out "Who let that guy speak?" And so ensued a conversation about racism and missionary work in which the Dean of Students, the Chapel Director, a Student Representative, Revecca, and four Riders all had much to say. I didn't hold back. I was hurt from the awful chapel service where I was offended from the pulpit as a woman and as a person who admires missionary work, as a person of color that was not represented, and as a person that work against this narrow-minded view of the world. Kurt's response was "we have minorities preach, don't judge on what you see in only one day"...and I lost it. I said, "there is NO excuse or reason why people of color should not be in everything you do ALL the time. It is not about us being included by White people, but about being an integral part of everything that is happening in this world." (None of that verbatim, I was pissed off and I was so appalled at what this supposed Leader was saying, how clueless he was, how blatant the racism...there was no way I could stay quiet. Another racist and stupid remark: "We want people of color to participate but they just aren't interested." WTF? If I walk into chapel and it is heavy metal or ska punk, and the band and singers are White, what they sing and how they sing it does not represent my culture or how I grew up whatsoever, and people from the pulpit are saying some ignorant, racist remarks while displaying Black kids' faces for sympathy... WHY THE HELL WOULD I WANT TO PARTICIPATE IN ANY OF THAT? Most of the diversity population (6%) are there for athletics. So what I gathered is that they take in "minority" kids on athletic scholarships to claim diversity, preying on the fact that most of these kids need it so that they can get a degree, taylor events and activities specifically around White culture or standards, and then BLAME these students because they are not interested in going through more ostracism and mental harm. One of the seniors at our table asked so many good questions, making himself vulnerable, but at the same time...HE'S A SENIOR! Like, about to graduate, and go off into the world and asked questions like: "Isn't White a color?" Had no idea what "White Privilege" was, nor the hint of understanding systems of oppression. This while the Dean of Students and the Chapel Director also could not explain, and were using offensive language as well!

It was a really long day. After that six of our Riders joined a panel discussion with 6 SBU students and faculty. It was awful, too. While Jess, one of our Riders who is a queer woman of color, spoke during the panel another Rider, Jason, sat in front of a Psychology Professor and heard all kinds of derogatory comments about her. And one of the panelists, a professor actually said something like: "The way I love you I call it love and you call it oppression, it's sad." Four of us from the audience yelled back, “YES, it IS sad!” So, kick us out of your schools, out of your communities, out of your families...because that's what you think love is, nevermind how it was that Jesus would love people.

At the end of the day some of us were ashamed of calling ourselves Christians. Personally, as someone that has just found Jesus three years ago and am still growing in my faith I lost my excitement for the first time. I question what Christians believe love is and if that aligns with my vision of love. And how can it be possible that I am capable of loving my friends greater than what God is capable of? How is it that I can love them and find them beautiful and God cannot? I remind myself that God sent Jesus as the ultimate example, and to not look to the different kinds of Christianity or Christians to follow. I try to remind myself. Sometimes the fences and divisions that we encounter along the way make it really difficult for me to believe that God wanted that. Pentecostal, Protestant, Mormon, Quakers, Baptist, whatever. They claim to be more right than others. And then Christianity claims to be more right than Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, etc. I throw my hands in the air and just pray. Pray that God knows we are simple and just need to be loved. And that being loved is not as complicated as we want to make it.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Letter from Shaunita @ Bethune Cookman University in Daytona, FL

Hi! I read about the Baylor experience on your blog-OMG! I am glad that it ended better than it started, referring to the evening event that you all
had together. I am really sorry about that. It makes me go :WTH?! What
more does it take? How much struggle and pain has to continue before we have real rights in this world for everyone?

About the person you mentioned in your blog who wanted to know the
difference between a sexual act and a same sex friendship- I may have that
same question in a sense. I asked some of my friends onTrevorSpace-what
makes a person gay? Several of them told me that you have to have sex with
someone of the same sex/be sexual with them or have some sort of sexual
attraction to call yourself a member of the gay community. I was a little
shocked that they would say this. And I disagree. I havent been with a
woman before but all my life I have questioned what I am. I have been and
am attracted to women and men. I have only been with men but I have not
considered myself fully straight. I always look at those questionaire
boxes with unease. I was never sure whether to put a title or anything on
myself because of the stigmas from family, friends and society,etc. I
subconsciously and secretly considered myself bisexual. I was confused
about my sexual orientation for a long time because I wasnot sure if I had
to DO something first. But I always thought about it. I always wondered. I
have always questioned myself and my sexuality. I understand of course
that it doesnt take sex for a person to know they are LGBTQ.

When you guys came to campus I was so excited! I felt free being with you
guys. I felt free from the traps of what people say or think or how people
put you in labels;even how we put labels on ourselves. I feel wonderful
inside. I want to express it more. Talking with you, I didnt (and dont)
feel like a sexual/racial anomaly. I walked away from our conversation
feeling like a better person and saying to myself-I AM gay;I AM bisexual.
And I felt great with that. I feel better about myself. I feel more
comfortable with who I am because I remembered that there are others out
here -there is you and everybody with Soulforce.

Going to BCU there is no outlet to express who you are.You get away from
that whole experience of what I described above. Being in Daytona I dont
see alot of avenues to do this. Back home (Seattle) as I mentioned before
there are so many organizations, clubs and groups-I felt relieved when I
talked to you because it was almost like that part of me had been on ice
or reserve or shut away/subconsciously forgotten in order to cope.

I am unsure whether you all made an impact here at BCU. I seem to be the
only person talking about you guys being here. Not many people knew you
all were here and not many seemed to care enough to stop by the table or
to see what you all were saying. I am embarassed by my campus:( A lot of
people donot seem to care about anything but themselves on this
campus-they just want to make it out of this school or hang out. I dont
know many activist like spirits here and it saddens me.

> > Shaunita De'Juanette Felder
> >
> >
> >
> > "I wish to live because life has within it that which is good, that which
> > is beautiful and that which is love.
> > Therefore, since I have known all of these things, I have found them to be
> > reason enough and-I wish to live.
> > Moreover, because this is so, I wish others to live for generations and
> > generations and generations."
> > -Lorraine Hansberry
> >
> >
> > "Freedom cannot be given; freedom is something that comes into being when
> > you do not seek it; it comes into being only when you know you are a
> > prisoner, when you know for yourself completely the state of being
> > conditioned, when you know you are held by society, by culture, by
> > tradition, held by whatever you have been told. Freedom is order - it is
> > never disorder - and one must have freedom, completely, both outwardly and
> > inwardly; without freedom there is no clarity; without freedom you can't
> > love; without freedom you can't find truth; without freedom you can't go
> > beyond the limitation of the mind. You must demand it with all your being.
> > When you so demand it, you will find out for yourself what order is - and
> > order is not the following of a pattern, a design; it is not the outcome
> > of habit".
> >
> > - J. Krishnamurti, Bombay, India, January 1968 Collected Works. Vol. VIII

***Permission was attained to use her full name and school.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Baylor University in Waco, Texas

Today we visited the much anticipated Baylor University. Two years ago when Soulforce visited the campus they chalked in front of the chapel and were asked to stop. All but five Riders and one student stopped at which point the ones that continued were arrested on trespassing charges. Yes, I said “chalked” which is the same as writing on sidewalk and streets with chalk. When they were taken to jail they were cavity searched, kept overnight before pretrial even though they were arrested mid-day, and a Trans Rider was mistreated he was placed in a female cell. All this, may I repeat, for chalking on sidewalk.

Mia and Jaxon, the Stop Planners for the school, coordinated a different approach this year and negotiated with administrator’s permission on campus to speak to students, faculty, and staff. So at 9am we walked onto campus excited to engage in dialogue and common ground. Nick and I volunteered to join in on a Philosophy class led by Dr. Dougherty who was the only Professor on campus to facilitate any kind of discussion or incorporate our visit into a class. This, I am sure, had a lot to do with the fact that Baylor did not send any type of e-mail announcing our visit and kept it very silent up until a day or two ago that they sent an e-mail that could be considered condescending (at best) by many. Kudos to Prof. Dougherty who I feel had the best intentions. It was disappointing that the dialogue that this opportunity fostered was greatly hindered by time constraints and an administrator that sat in on the conversation. However, the questions posed by Dr. Dougherty were insightful and the responses to the questions we posed back at him were honestly answered.

The rest of the day Riders spent engaging students and challenging them to think about the policy, how this policy aligns/contradicts Christian teachings, the intersection of justice and faith and sexuality, and just asking and answering questions. Personally, I had some really great discussions. During one of these with a student I tried to explain the difference between a sexual act and an identity. A question posed to me that I had not been asked before was, “If a lesbian couple does not engage in sexual activity, how is this different than two female friends?” I must admit it took me by surprise because it was so obvious to me, but I had to take a step back and admire this person for being courageous enough to admit ignorance and willing to be vulnerable by asking an honest question. These are the kinds of questions that students want to know; the kind of questions that could be answered within the safe spaces of a Queer/Straight Alliance if Baylor would allow one to exist.

Promptly at four o’clock, in accordance with our agreement, we boarded the bus and left campus. We rolled to a nearby park where Jaxon and Mia had planned a Variety Show. Under a pavilion with the sun shining down on us people shared a part of their lives with a friendly and eager audience. We had a little bit of everything. The show included spoken word, dance routines, slam poetry, queer skits, original music, and amazing ‘coming out’ testimonies that had the crowd in thunderous applause. In my own Equality Ride experience and after such a depleting day, this reminder of the wonderful and amazing community and culture I belong to, affirmed and replenished my belief in my faith, my cause, and my friends.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Response to Malone Student

Dear Student,

First I’d like to thank you for contacting me because I know that it takes a lot of courage and strength to speak your mind. No, I have not received many letters in opposition to our visit. None, actually. In my opinion, your comments and questions are directed in a Christ-like manner and this type of dialogue is what the Equality Ride is all about. Your letter poses some wonderful questions that get right to the heart of why we, 25 activists, leave our families and loved ones and go around the country for two months to visit colleges and universities. I hope to do your letter justice by answering below; however, it would be ideal if you can meet up with us any of the three days we will be in Canton, OH as I am sure the answers I give will open up more questions and comments!

Before I go on, I’d like to clear something up. While it is true that homophobia is successfully spread by religion and maintained by the church, not all the Riders feel oppressed by the Christian faith. Personally, I go to an affirming church and am happy to say I am Christian and queer :)

You inquire why we are visiting your campus, and especially since all types of public displays of affection are discouraged. My answer is simply that there are students on your campus that are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer and have not broken the covenant of celibacy, and might be perfectly happy to not engage in PDA. You see, our society has made “homosexuality” such a taboo that people find it very difficult to separate the Identity with the sexual act. If you don’t know any queer people, don’t learn or talk about it in school or at home, and all the information you receive about queer folks is linked to sex or sexual behavior, of course, that’s all you’re going to think about when the topic comes up. However, these students have a need to talk about their feelings, their experiences, their fears. Just as every other student on campus feels safe enough to ask questions, the Equality Ride is going to Malone in hopes that we can open up safe spaces for LGBTQ students to talk and ask questions too, without feeling like they are wrong for it, and feel safe about doing so. These questions range from what should I wear on my first date, to how do I tell my parents and faith community? What does the Bible say? What are these things I feel inside? I’m not attracted to the opposite gender, what does that mean? Students right now are suffering in an imposed silence.

Your second question, summed up, asks: People enter Malone fully aware of its rules, why would Soulforce choose to protest at a school where students have signed an agreement to participate to Malone’s standards? I have to admit, we get this all the time. There is a simple answer is that Malone is a fine institution with a rich and wonderful history and faith. Students that go to Malone have chosen to do so based on this and the programs offered there. It is not my understanding that the Quaker/Evangelical Friends have a tradition of excluding people, and so if a prospective student has their heart set on Malone, has passed all the GPA/testing requirements, and abides by the agreement that every other student abides by…why would they not go to Malone? Malone has a discriminatory policy that can change and evolve to include all minority/oppressed groups and we come to dialogue in regards to how this could best be achieved.

It is also possible that students entered Malone questioning or not fully understanding their sexual orientation. Or their parents push them to attend their alma mater, or do not allow room to choose any other institution. These are difficult positions to be in (especially if the parents are paying for tuition). Once a student has a loving faith community and is involved in student life it is very difficult to face the decision of walking away from it all or letting their parents know why they shouldn’t go to a school! Some of the schools we visit find out that a student has been dating, or is “outed” by a friend that heard a phone call (or similar) and the school forces them into “reparative therapy” and contacts the family or expels the student. Once the student finds themselves without their faith community, family, friends, and school…what happens to them? If you found yourself completely rejected by everyone and everything you ever loved, what would you do? Did you know that LGBTQ individuals are 3 to 7 times more likely to commit suicide than their heterosexual counterpart? These are not made up statistics. Kids are killing themselves and being killed. We have had several Riders that have experienced this. Feel free to talk to them more in depth about their personal experiences.

Your final question asks how Soulforce responds to biblical passages that define marriage as the union of one man and one woman. This conversation, in my experience, has taken upwards of an hour and is most commonly a give and take because of the different interpretations of the Bible between denominations and person by person. In a nutshell, and not doing your question justice, I must ask you to look in the Bible and find where it condemns the union of two people of the same gender. It does not. Jesus didn’t say anything against it and the Bible doesn’t mention a healthy, committed, loving relationship between two people of the same gender. To talk about this more in depth, please come to any one of our community events. I can also send you online resources.

April 23rd 7pm – United Church of Christ Panel Discussion with the Equality Riders
April 24th 8pm – Community party/gathering Venue TBA
April 25th 9am - Bible Study focusing on Clobber Passages and Worship Service at 10:30am

You end saying, “what may be false to you is true to someone else and vice versa. Why is your truth more important than someone else’s? Does not equality embrace individual beliefs for all?” I don’t believe that there is one truth that is more important than another in this case and I do not want to draw a line between people. It is a misunderstanding on Malone’s part of what exactly equality means. It is completely possible to treat everyone as equal human beings with justice, love, and respect without compromising your (or their) faith. The Bible has at different points in history been used to justify the inequitable treatment of many different groups of people. As humanity has progressed it has understood that as Christians of faith we cannot continue allowing a certain group to be marginalized, oppressed, discriminated, and treated as less than because it is simply not Christ-like. This has not invalidated the Bible, and has only succeeded in strengthening the faith and message. It is the way in which progressives have renewed our understanding of the Bible time and time again that has brought the Word into the 21st century, with God’s will, of course.

I hope this has helped. Please e-mail me with more questions, but I hope to see you at any of the other community events.


Sabrina Diz