I have had absolutely no time to actually sit down and write out a post on the craziness which was the stop at the University of the Cumberlands in Williamsburg, KY. My co-organizer, Bronwen Tomb, and I could never have expected what we saw there; especially the police’s blatant disregard of the Constitution and First Amendment. Cumberlands was pretty much a live demo of what the Clinton, MS, police had threatened to do before they received a letter from the ACLU and backed down.

Anyways… I’ll get a post up soon and some video. I hear I gave an awesome speech at the rally, lol.

Fundraising: For every one person who registers at the LGBT-oriented social networking site GLEE.com, the company will donate $5.00 to Soulforce (to benefit the Equality Ride).

Please take the time to do something as simple and easy as a website registration and help out a great cause!

Click here to Register at GLEE.com and let them give $5.00 to Soulforce

Today is our stop at Samford University (a Baptist school), in Birmingham, AL. The school is letting us on campus and has worked with us to create a schedule of activities and events all day. At around 1:30pm, the presentation group I belong to will talk to the law school about civil and human rights as well as some recent legislation and other stuffs important to the LGBT community. Our presentation includes a multimedia presentation put together by none other than… little ole’ me, lol. Check it out on YouTube or watch it below.

From the Corbin Times-Tribune:

Group to rally for gay rights
Soulforce Equality Ride to meet with University of the Cumberlands students

By Samantha Swindler / Managing Editor

About 25 riders with the Soulforce Equality Ride will arrive in Williamsburg today to rally for equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, specifically in Christian schools.

The scripturally-focused group plans to meet with University of the Cumberlands students this morning — but they’ll have to stay off the campus grounds.

University of the Cumberlands president Dr. Jim Taylor said riders who visit campus will be considered trespassers and “will be handled by local authorities.”

“We simply cannot give the Equality Riders full reign of campus where they may disrupt academic programs and campus life,” said Michael Colegrove, vice president for student services, in a letter to Soulforce.

Instead of entering campus, rider Matt Hill Comer said the group will hold a press conference at 10 a.m. today on the corner of Main and 9th streets in Williamsburg.

“We will be on Main Street attempting to talk to students to start a dialogue,” Comer said. “I think we’re going to have a good day, and I think we can expect a lot of good conversations with students.”

At 5 p.m., the group will hold a rally at the Whitley County Courthouse in Williamsburg. Planned speakers will include Soulforce Equality Ride East Bus Co-Director Jarrett Lucas, Jordan Palmer with the Kentucky Equality Federation, Wes Wright with the Kentucky Fairness Alliance and Jason Johnson, a former University of the Cumberlands student who was expelled from the school after revealing he was gay on his personal myspace.com Web page.

The Equality Ride is a two-month bus tour to “initiate discussion about faith and sexuality in communities where it is most controversial.”

In 2006, inaugural Equality Ride visited 19 Christian colleges and universities. This year, with two buses, the group plans to visit 32 schools.

“An unfortunate number of Christian colleges and universities blatantly condemn certain aspects of human diversity. In fact, in many schools, identifying as or affirming a lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender person is a violation of policy,” reads a statement from the Equality Ride Web site. “Participants in the Equality Ride share a message of hope and healing with students suffering under such doctrinal prejudice.”

For more information on the Equality Ride, visit equalityride.com

__________________________________

More information on our stop at University of the Cumberlands and a schedule for the days events see http://www.soulforce.org/article/1151

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From the Courier-Journal:

Activists stage seminary sit-in
They protest Mohler’s commentary on gays

By Peter Smith
psmith@courier-journal.com
The Courier-Journal

Copyright 2007, Courier-Journal, Michael Clevenger, PhotographerA dozen gay-rights activists were charged with criminal trespass yesterday after holding a sit-in outside the office of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Albert Mohler to protest his recent comments about homosexuality.

[Photo Right: Protesters sang outside Southern Baptist Theological Seminary yesterday while waiting for other protesters to be arrested inside President Albert Mohler’s office. (By Michael Clevenger, The Courier-Journal)] More Photos from the Courier-Journal.

Twenty-two people initially participated in the two-hour sit-in. Ten left when they were warned that they would be arrested if they stayed.

Police arrested the other 12 protesters without incident. They were being processed at Metro Corrections early yesterday evening.

The activists are part of the group Soulforce, which calls for religious groups to accept noncelibate gays and lesbians as members and leaders. They are on a two-month bus tour holding similar protests at other religious college campuses.

The activists were protesting a recent online commentary by Mohler. While conceding the possibility that homosexuality could be caused by biological factors, Mohler welcomed the use of prenatal hormonal therapies, if developed, to counteract homosexual tendencies detected in fetuses, although he ruled out using genetic engineering.

One protester, Kyle DeVries, said that Mohler’s prominence as a leading evangelical Christian spokesman gives him “tremendous influence” and that his “calls for eugenics for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people needed to be answered. … We decided to come here and demand a rescindment of those comments and a public apology for them.”

The protesters arrived around 10 a.m. and entered Norton Hall but were barred from the office. They sat silently, cross-legged on the floor, except when seminary Vice President for Communications Lawrence Smith said he would listen to their formal statement. The group also sang a popular revival hymn, “Just As I Am,” at one point.

Smith said that Mohler was not on campus at the time of the protest and that it did not disrupt classes or any other campus activity except the operation of the president’s office, which is on the second floor of the administration building.

“They, of course, have a right to protest, but they don’t have a right to break the law, and that’s why they were arrested,” Smith said. “You have to understand they are a professional protest group. Their aim is to create disruption and in some cases be arrested.”

Soulforce has protested at past meetings of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Mohler’s online column, posted earlier this month on his Web site, ran counter to conservative evangelicals’ common assertion that homosexuality is chosen, not biological. Mohler said Christians shouldn’t be surprised if scientists find a biological cause for homosexuality because of the traditional Christian belief that human sin has infected all of nature.

“If a biological basis is found, and if a prenatal test is then developed, and if a successful treatment to reverse the sexual orientation to heterosexual is ever developed, we would support its use as we should unapologetically support the use of any appropriate means to avoid sexual temptation and the inevitable effects of sin,” Mohler wrote in an article posted March 2 on his blog at www.AlbertMohler.com.

Matt Comer, one of the protesters who was not arrested, said he grew up in an independent Baptist church that, like the Southern Baptist Convention, condemned homosexual behavior.

He said Mohler is “a major Baptist leader” whose words “are going to affect youth like me who grew up in Baptist churches hearing horrible things from the pulpit about gay and lesbian people.”

Mohler’s writing that he would not favor genetic engineering but only prenatal hormonal therapy didn’t make a difference to DeVries.

“What’s the difference when you eliminate somebody’s sexual orientation?” he said.

The 10 protesters who left the premises when warned of arrest went down to a public sidewalk along Lexington Road in front of the campus, where they stood in the hot sun and sang in support of those being arrested. A small group of seminary students greeted them briefly and brought them water.

Soulforce and local gay-rights protesters held a second vigil late yesterday afternoon on the public sidewalk in front of the seminary.

Reporter Peter Smith can be reached at (502) 582-4469.

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In an article from today’s Clarion Ledger (Jackson, Mississippi), the City of Clinton Police Department has denied any wrong-doing in the harassment of the Equality Riders.

I’ve posted much on the subject: On Thursday, March 22, 2007, as we were trying to gather all of our Riders, a police officer with the Clinton Police Department pulled our bus over three times in what was only a five to ten minute time period, threatened to arrest our driver, and told us to get out of town. See previous posts on the issue, one with video & the letter to the Mississippi Attorney General and the other with the letter from the major, national LGBT advocacy groups.

We really can’t talk about this situation here in Clinton without first stopping to remember that it was the City of Clinton Police Department which first attempted to deny our Constitutionally-protected rights to free speech and peaceful assembly, while admitting openly that what they were doing was in direct opposition to the Constitution! Can we really trust what the Clinton Police say or do? Can we believe them? If they would go as far as to attempt to limit Constitutional rights and admit that openly, what makes anyone think that they wouldn’t do anything, say anything to get the spotlight of them when the fact of their harassment becomes known to more than just us poor little gay folks on the big gay bus?

From the article:

Clinton police Lt. Randy Ruffin said the department did nothing wrong and “bent over backward trying to accommodate” the Soulforce Equality Ride on Thursday.

Soulforce, a group visiting Christian colleges throughout the nation to protest inequality, faxed a letter to state Attorney General Jim Hood’s office Friday, claiming police officers made the group move three times in 10 minutes as it waited for the riders to meet at the bus.

The group also alleges one officer instructed the protesters to “get out of town” and said the driver would be arrested if they did not leave, according to the letter.

The national coalition has sent a letter to Clinton Mayor Rosemary Aultman and made calls her office, Gay and Lesbian Task Force Executive Director Matt Foreman said.

“Something like this can cause long-lasting damage to a city’s image,” Foreman said. “The behavior of their police brings up the worst stereotypes of the South.”

Ruffin denied the allegations made by Soulforce and said the group was told to move once because the bus was blocking traffic.

“The making of untrue and baseless claims of law enforcement maltreatment is a tactic used by Soulforce in an attempt to garner sympathetic support from anyone who will listen,” Ruffin said.

Ten members of Soulforce have said they would sign affidavits that the intimidation occurred.

Kyle DeVries, a Soulforce participant from Tallahassee, Fla., said the organization wants an apology from the Police Department.

So, if we are to believe the Clinton Police Department (you know, the folks who would openly and without regret take away American citizens’ Constitutionally-protected rights), then one would have to believe that we are lying. Why would we lie? What purpose would it serve? If we are willing to sign legal affidavits to our statements and we are lying, wouldn’t that cause us more harm? The allegation that we are lying doesn’t make any sense and is a poor and easy way out of the problem the Clinton Police Department has gotten themselves into.

From what I have heard from our two Riders who organized our activities in Clinton, Lt. Randy Ruffin is a good guy and has done many great things for us while in Clinton. I fully believe that, as of right now, Lt. Ruffin is only doing his job. The whole of the Clinton Police Department is not guilty of the harassment we received, but only the officers who harassed us. Lt. Ruffin and the rest of the Department, however, should have the integrity to stand up and say, “Okay… Some of our officers did this. We do not approve of the harassment you received and we will treat your complaint like any other; we will start an investigation into the claims. If the investigation turns up that you did, in fact, receive this harassment, then we will take the necessary steps to ensure that those officers guilty of such harassment our held to the standards and ideals of our Police Department and the standards and ideals set for law enforcement in this nation.”

Soulforce is lying. Yeah right. As a group that goes around trying to dispel the un-truths and mis-information taught by the church, why in the world would we lie… why would we do what we are asking others not to? Why would we want to sign legal affidavits to something if it weren’t true? Why would we stand on lies and falsities and put ourselves in grave legal trouble, if none of this were true? Doesn’t make any sense does it?

Lt. Randy Ruffin knows what he needs to do. Make an apology for the harassment we received in your town. Tell your Police Department that this type of behavior is not tolerated. Take those officers who were responsible and see to it that they understand that this type of behavior is not tolerated. Hold your Police Department and officers up to higher standards and ideals.

Lt. Ruffin, don’t let your wonderful, beautiful City of Clinton (I really mean that, it is a wonderfully charming town) fall into the stereotypes of “those ignorant, racist, sexist, bigoted small town Southerners.” I’m from the South… I’ve heard what people say about us and it isn’t true of all of us. Don’t hold up the stereotype. Be brave and reach for something better.

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In response to Thursday’s occurrences, when the Clinton, MS, police told Equality Riders to get out of their town, the leaders of six major, national LGBT advocacy organizations have written a joint letter to the mayor of the City of Clinton.

The letter is signed by: Kevin Cathcart (Executive Director, Lambda Legal), Matt Foreman (Executive Director, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force), Neil Giuliano (President, Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation), Kate Kendall (Executive Director, National Center for Lesbian Rights), Patrick Sammon (President, Log Cabin Republicans) and Joe Solmonese (President, Human Rights Campaign).

The letter reads:

March 23, 2007
Rosemary G. Aultman, Mayor
City of Clinton
300 Jefferson St
Clinton, MS 39056

Sent via Facsimile Transmission: 601.924.0113

Dear Mayor Aultman,

We are writing to strongly protest the recent actions of your police department toward Soulforce and insist that all intimidation and harassment against its members end immediately.

On March 20, Clinton police officials informed Soulforce that its members would be cited if they “attempt[ed] to gather or travel in a group of four or more” near the campus of Mississippi College. Lt. Thomas R. Ruffin acknowledged that the department’s actions “could be construed as conflicting with constitutional allowances,” but said that Soulforce’s presence in Clinton presented “valid public safety concerns.” This accusation is utterly without merit: Soulforce is enormously well respected across the country and is relentlessly nonviolent. Only after being contacted by the American Civil Liberties Union did the police lift the threat of citation.

Yesterday, as Soulforce members were getting ready to leave the city in their bus, they were persistently harassed by a police officer. The officer ordered the bus to leave town, saying, “Go on and get out of town.” After the bus driver explained that they were waiting on the remainder of the group, he was still forced to move on and threatened with arrest. This happened a total of
three times — even when the bus was moved to a space the city previously designated for it.

This behavior is not only intimidating and unlawful, it will cause long-lasting damage to Clinton’s reputation, derail your goal of becoming one of the nation’s premier cities, and is exactly the opposite of what you say on your own Web site — that Clinton is known for its hospitality.

To see the original letter, as faxed to the Mayor of Clinton, MS, today, click here.

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Yesterday was our stop at Mississippi College in Clinton, MS. You’ll remember from a few days ago when I posted the story on how the City of Clinton Police Department had attempted to restrict our Constitutionally-protected rights to free speech and peaceful assembly. One of the Police’s restrictions was that we would be arrested if we walked on a public sidewalk anywhere within the city limits if in groups of four or more individuals. The City of Clinton later backed down after the ACLU sent them a letter fully explaining the Constitutional issues involved in that situation.

Here is a video of the occurrences at Mississippi College and the City of Clinton, below that is a copy of a post by Jake Reitan, Equality Ride founder, from the Soulforce blog, including a letter sent to the Mississippi Attorney General. You can see the official Press Release from Soulforce here. For more information on the five arrests at the College, see this release.



From Soulforce…

Today the Equality Ride hit a bump in the road. We ran into police intimidation in Clinton Mississippi. Prior to leaving the town of Clinton Mississippi the Equality Ride bus was confronted three times by the same police officer who told the Equality Ride bus driver to “go on and get out of town.” The final time the officer interacted with the bus driver he threatened to arrest him if he did not follow his order.

The right to peaceably assemble without fear of arrest is a central right protected by our constitution. Moreover, the behavior on the part of the Clinton Mississippi police concerns not just to the civil rights of the Equality Riders but more importantly the general safety and well being of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people within the town of Clinton, Mississippi.

Below is a letter that Jarret Lucas and Katie Higgins, the two co-directors of the Equality Ride east bus, sent to the Mississippi Attorney General expressing our concerns.

The Equality Riders will be returning to Clinton today for a preplanned community forum and picnic.

March 23, 2007

Attorney General Jim Hood
MS Attorney General’s Office
Carroll Gartin Justice Building
450 High Street
Jackson, MS 39201

Sent Via: Facsimile

Re: “Get out of town”

Dear Attorney General Hood,

We write today out of deep concern for the actions of the Clinton Mississippi Police Department. We are the Co-Directors of the Soulforce Equality Ride, a bus tour of college students who are crossing the country to advocate for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender equality. As a group we are committed to and trained in the principles of nonviolence, and have a history of peaceful dialogue and respectful interaction with college students and administrations across the country. Soulforce has an outstanding relationship with many police departments and honors the hard work that law enforcement officials put into their lives everyday.

Last night, while in the town of Clinton, Mississippi, we experienced a distressing form of police intimidation. After a day of dialogue at nearby Mississippi College, we parked our bus in downtown Clinton. We were waiting for the return of some of the members of our tour from area coffee shops. While waiting, a police vehicle approached the bus with its lights flashing, signaling us to move. Our bus driver immediately turned down the nearest road and into a church parking lot to await the Equality Riders. The same officer once again followed us into the parking lot, with his lights on and asked our driver to speak with him. The officer was quite aggressive in demanding that we “go on and get out of town.” Our driver explained that we were still waiting on the remainder of our group, but was still forced to move the bus. At that time, we drove and parked the bus in a lot that was previously designated by the city of Clinton. For the third time, a police vehicle approached us with flashing lights. The officer who approached us was extremely indignant and asked us “what is your problem? We have already given you breaks today.” Our driver explained that we were in the space the City provided for us. In response, the officer asserted that our driver would be arrested if he were to take us anywhere else and not leave the city of Clinton immediately. Soon after, a community member arrived with the rest of the Equality Riders and we left promptly. We are prepared to provide sworn affidavits from ten people who can attest to the above series of events.

This behavior on the part of a Clinton police officer is unacceptable and we consider it a violation of our civil rights. Law abiding citizens should be allowed to safely assemble in any town in America. Such actions on the part of a law enforcement agent serve to make gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people feel unsafe in the city of Clinton. The role of a police officer is to protect members of the public, not threaten or intimidate them.

These concerns are augmented by the fact that several days prior to our arrival in Clinton, we received a document from the Clinton Police Department that set restrictions on our First Amendment right to assemble. After being contacted by the American Civil Liberties Union, the city rescinded the unconstitutional restrictions and shamefully applauded Soulforce for “playing the game well.”

We are planning on returning to the city of Clinton today for a preplanned community picnic and we will not tolerate a repeat of this sort of behavior from the Clinton Police Department. If threatened with arrest for lawful assembly today members of the Soulforce Equality Ride are prepared and willing to submit to such an arrest. Any arrests for lawful assembly would be challenged by us in court and followed up with a lawsuit on our behalf against the city of Clinton for violation of our civil rights.

We hope that you will take swift action by informing the city of Clinton that such behavior by the Clinton Police is unlawful and will not be tolerated in the State of Mississippi.

Jarrett Lucas & Katie Higgins

cc. Dunn Lampton, U.S. Attorney, Southern District of Mississippi
Chief Don Byington, City of Clinton Police Department
Sheriff Maclom McMillin, Hinds County Sheriff Department
John S. Williams, Staff Attorney, ACLU Mississippi

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Guilford County, home of the City of Greensboro (yup… my ‘neck of the woods’ for sure), has passed new employment anti-discrimination policies banning discrimination against folks based on sexual orientation.

From EqualityNC:

The Guilford County Board of Commissioners have unanimously approved expanding the County’s personnel policy to provide discrimination protections based on sexual orientation.

The new policy, which will protect county employees from discrimination, was adopted at the Commissioners’ March 15 meeting.

Equality NC applauds the work of local leaders in securing this change, including Bob Page and Gary Palmer of Replacements Ltd., who have been working towards this goal for several years.

Guilford County joins Orange, Durham, and Mecklenburg County, as well as the towns of Bessemer City, Carrboro, Chapel Hill, Durham, Greensboro, and Raleigh, which already have such policies in place. Only Carrboro and Chapel Hill have policies inclusive of gender identity or expression.

“The growing number of communities across our state, as well as major employers, who have adopted anti-discrimination policies should send a strong signal to our state leaders that the time has come to ensure that all employees deserve a workplace free of discrimination and harassment,” said Ian Palmquist, Executive Director.

So really now… How long is it going to take before my hometown of Winston-Salem and Forsyth County wise up and realize that its Piedmont/Triad area sister is passing them up? When are we going to finally realize that unless we make some changes that Winston-Salem will one day be nothing more than a back-woods town with no economic, political or social influence in the State of North Carolina whatsoever?

The five Equality Riders and one Baylor University student kept in jail overnight after being arrested on Tuesday were released close to Noon on Wednesday after a judge set bail for about $2000 each (for a simple trespassing charge!!!).
The Riders are on their way as we speak to Clinton, Mississippi. The rest of us headed over here earlier on Wednesday. Our stop at Mississippi College (another Baptist school) is scheduled for tomorrow.

For the back-story on the occurrences at Baylor:

Six arrested at Baylor; will be kept in jail overnight

News from Waco; Baylor news articles

0

News from Waco, Baylor news articles

Here are the news articles from The Baylor Lariat, Baylor University’s student newspaper from the last couple of days:

Equality ride preaches open dialogue
March 20, 2007
By CLAIRE ST. AMANT
Staff writer

Twenty-six members from the Soulforce Equality Ride visited campus Monday to dialogue with students and the community about issues of homosexuality and faith. Baylor marks the fourth stop at private Christian universities and colleges across the Eastern United States for the group, which also has a Western counterpart.

The group’s mission is to “encourage reconciliation between lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals and faith communities,” said equality rider Mandy Matthias, an alumna of Eastern University.

Group members attended Chapel with students Monday morning and spent the rest of the afternoon walking around campus and meeting people, she said.

“We do feel that God loves and affirms us just as we are as LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) people,” Matthias said. “The writers in the Bible didn’t necessarily understand the issue of orientation and they just saw it was deviant behavior.”

Read the full article

_____________________________

Baylor, Soulforce tackle Christianity, homosexuality
March 20, 2007
By CLAIRE ST. AMANT nd MELISSA LIMMER
Staff writers

Dub Oliver, vice president for Student Life and Amanda Harris, a Soulforce Equality Ride member from Lonoke, Ark., who attended Baylor in the fall of 2003, answered a series of questions for the Lariat.

Read the full Q&A
_____________________________

Soulforce members arrested on campus
By CLAIRE ST. AMANT and MELISSA LIMMER
Staff writers

Six members of the gay advocacy group Soulforce Equality Ride were arrested Tuesday at Baylor on charges of criminal trespassing after they refused to stop chalking on campus.

The members congregated in front of Waco Hall around 2 p.m. and began chalking what they called “messages of love and hope.”

Baylor Police Chief Jim Doak said officers asked the Soulforce members to stop chalking before arresting them, but they refused. He said none of the six people arrested was a Baylor student. [The police chief lied, one person arrested was a Baylor student named Shawn].
Read full article.
____________________________

Baylor uses hypocritical approach to homosexuality conversation
March 21, 2007
By KATIE SWEETEN

I attended the Soulforce Equality Ride rally, Monday dinner and worship service out of curiosity about the message they were sharing.

As a third-year law student and the fifth member of my family to attend Baylor, I was saddened and embarrassed by the e-mail that went out to the student body from Dr. Dub Oliver, vice president for student life.

In one breath, it touted Baylor as a place that is “comfortable with conversations regarding human sexuality,” but in the next breath, it denied Soulforce’s requests for university-approved dialogue. The e-mail was a thinly veiled attempt to let the group know they’re not welcome on our campus. As I understand it, one of the goals of the Equality Ride is to come in the spirit of non-violence to promote dialogue in the Baylor and Waco communities. Contrary to what many students think, the goal of this group is not to “make you gay” or to get you to turn your back on the Bible, but rather to open up lines of communication between gay and straight communities in a Christian context.

Read the full op-ed.

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More videos coming soon!

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