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Equality Riders
handcuffed in Falwell's hometown

Equality Riders
handcuffed in Falwell's hometown


More than 20 mostly college-age Soulforce activists, including Jacob Reitan (pictured), were arrested for trespassing Friday at Liberty University.

More than 20 gay rights activists were arrested on trespassing charges Friday as they tried to step onto the campus of Liberty University, the Lynchburg, Va., school founded by the Reverend Jerry Falwell. Many of the activists were part of the nationwide Equality Ride, a tour to promote gay and lesbian equality at the nation's conservative Christian universities and military academies. About 35 people, most of them college-age, are on the ride, which was organized by Soulforce, an LGBT rights group that focuses on religion-based discrimination and religious freedom.

Liberty University was the first stop on the Equality Ride, and Falwell himself had warned participants in advance that they risked arrest.

Invoking the memory of the civil rights movement, Soulforce member and Equality Ride codirector Jacob Reitan said, "We want to come to the school today to say, 'Learn from history.' We have a right to be here, because this school teaches that being gay is being sick and sinful. We have a right to question and to show how we are children of God."

Reitan and other Soulforce members said they did not intend to be arrested at the campus but just hoped to talk to Liberty students.

Some 60 people, including participants in the Equality Ride, gathered for the late morning rally on a sidewalk outside the school's main entrance. A music group played guitars and sang 1960s peace songs. Several Liberty students spoke to the Soulforce members. But the group didn't always find support.

Comparing homosexuals to drug users and adulterers, Liberty senior Tray Faulkner said the university disapproves of any alternative lifestyle. "I know you guys don't think it's a sin," he said. "We do."

Campus police charged all of those arrested with trespassing, and two faced additional charges of inciting trespassing. They were restrained in plastic handcuffs before being taken to a local magistrate.

Falwell, the university's chancellor, had warned the group that it would not be permitted on campus, saying he would not allow his school to be used for a media event aimed at raising money for gay rights. "Neither will we permit them to espouse opinions or otherwise suggest beliefs or lifestyles that are in opposition to the morals and values that this institution promotes," he said in a statement issued earlier.

Over the years, Falwell's various religious and political groups have used fear and condemnation of gay people to help raise an amount of money estimated in the tens of millions to help build his Lynchburg-based media, educational, and lobbying empire.

After Lynchburg, Equality Ride organizers Reitan and Haven Herrin told The Advocate before the ride began, they hope to visit at least 18 more religious and military campuses that bar openly gay and lesbian students.

Reitan, who is young adult coordinator at Soulforce, said that he had the idea for the ride after meeting a closeted gay student at a religious school. "Our hope is, we can have a productive day of dialogue [at each stop] about gay and lesbian issues."

Dispatches written by Reitan and other Equality Ride participants are scheduled to begin appearing in The Advocate's online edition the week of March 13. (AP, with additional reporting by

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