Scroll To Top

Why I chose to be

Why I chose to be


The codirector of the Equality Ride writes about her decision to be handcuffed and booked at the ride's second stop: "I chose to walk onto campus to tell gay and lesbian students at Regent University that the God of their faith does indeed claim them, even if their church does not."

This is the second of The Advocate's dispatches from the Equality Ride. Sponsored by Soulforce, the ride is taking 33 young LGBT activists to college campuses across the nation that have policies of ejecting openly gay and lesbian students. The confrontational first stop was last week at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va. On Tuesday, March 14, the riders arrived at Regent University in Virginia Beach, Va., an institution that promises to shape "Christian leadership to change the world." Regent was not welcoming to the activists. This dispatch was written by Haven Herrin, codirector of the Equality Ride.

The policeman who arrested me, Officer King, wanted to know why I bothered crossing the yellow tape onto the Regent University campus on Tuesday, March 14. As he observed, I already had the local Fox and ABC affiliates, a delegate from Focus on the Family, and a host of other cameras there to witness the presence of the Soulforce Equality Ride. I had the media in spades--thanks to Regent's mounted police, unmarked patrol cars, and the promise of arrest--but what I did not have yet was the irrefutable evidence of my convictions.

I crossed the line because, if I had been satisfied with the spectacle and the aesthetic of our message, I would have betrayed our reason for traveling across the country for two months to schools that uphold discrimination against gay and lesbian students. If I were to have stopped short of crossing that line, then our message would have spoken merely of the 33 of us: how we looked on camera and how much press coverage we achieved--rather than having demonstrated the lack of dialogue on campus regarding GLBT inequality.

The message of the Soulforce Equality Ride is that the religion-based oppression of GLBT students must end; we are loved as we are without reservation. The absence of this notion on campuses is the cause of so much suffering that we cannot stop short out of fear, discouragement, or self-preservation. So how can I take a stand that is larger than my personhood, or my time on Tuesday, March 14, or my intellectual arguments? How can I reach beyond the phenomenal, to borrow a Buddhist term, and thus grant the brutality of the assault on our community's humanity the appropriate weight? I fear that the comfortable apathy of our society regarding GLBT discrimination is couched in a lack of sense of that brutality--and a lack of anger or indignation about it.

I am cast into the world of the symbolic and the abstract in order to find the stance that speaks of just how grave this assault is. What do I have to offer up that gets to that larger sense of things? I am not going into certain violence and overt hatred, as did the Freedom Riders of the 1950s and 1960s. I do not have the strife of those times to lend credibility and import to my actions. No, this hatred is far more veiled in civility and a false idea of sanctified religious belief. What I can do is lay my personal autonomy down--essentially my body and my life--by accepting handcuffs as evidence of just how serious this brutality is.

Walking onto a campus and allowing a school to choose to arrest me exposes just how far an institution will go to keep its doors locked tight against this discussion of GLBT discrimination, and giving up control over my life exposes just how deeply wrong I find this injustice. The subtext of Officer King's question is one of vanity, as if I submit to arrest for self-aggrandizement. On the contrary, what is vain is to gather around the media and then stop short of sacrificing my autonomy in order to underscore the seriousness of GLBT inequality.

I made the initial decision to engage in civil disobedience after meeting a lesbian who attends Regent. She and her friends asked me to join in their Bible study on Monday evening. I saw this woman praise God and sing with all her heart. Her devotion was complete and born out of love. That her religion would reject her regardless of this devotion was vulgar and sad to me, a rejection most untenable.

I chose to walk onto campus to tell students at Regent University that the God of their faith does indeed claim them, even if their church does not. Such love should not be met with such denial.

On Tuesday I strode across the few hundred feet of grass between our vigil line and the group of police gathered behind the yellow tape, while cameras and other officers massed around me, trying to keep pace with me as I spoke out, "Those students want to speak to me, and I need to speak to them. I have a right as any other citizen to do so."

A bit of background: The day before, students had attempted to reach our vigil line in order to speak with us, but the police ordered them away. It was the vision of two students waiting behind the mass of officers that pulled me across the police line Tuesday morning.

I do not recall a time when I walked into such a critical unknown. The officers' threats of several months in jail and an unmerciful arrest made the grass between the vigil line and the police line a gulf that led to an abyss. The police and the administration may view my actions as petty or vain, but I am assured that my arrest was effective communication.

For myself, I now know just how far I will travel for my beliefs and just how deeply my own sense of injustice and anger runs. The strength of my stance, measured by risk, conveys the power of my convictions.

I was released a couple of hours after my arrest and hosted a dinner that evening with 20 students from Regent. I came to realize that they understand the sincerity of my interest in their freedom and dignity because of my arrest. They had feared for me; they had not wanted me to be arrested. After the fact, however, they clearly understood that the message of the Soulforce Equality Ride is unshakable. Our words become our actions, and that is what begets the respect and the integrity that those like us, the people who ring the alarm, need in order to be taken seriously.

I am not the same. My new friends at Regent University are not the same. I think we all understand the import of this moment in America. We have a group of activists with a purity of motive who have proven that even if I am arrested, there is no end to the number of witnesses who will take my place.

30 Years of Out100Out / Advocate Magazine - Jonathan Groff & Wayne Brady

From our Sponsors

Most Popular

Latest Stories

Haven Herrin