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.