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Equality Riders
Get Warm Reception at Liberty University

Equality Riders
Get Warm Reception at Liberty University

The 2008 edition of the Soulforce Q Equality Ride reached its first destination at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., on Wednesday, where five riders were permitted on campus to deliver books to the library on LGBT issues.

The 2008 edition of the Soulforce Q Equality Ride reached its first destination at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., on Wednesday, where five riders were permitted on campus to deliver books to the library on LGBT issues. In its third year, the Equality Ride seeks to promote dialogue about homosexuality and Christianity by having gay students visit schools across the country where other gay students are discriminated against or outright barred from attending. Seventeen riders are participating this year.

Liberty library officials will review the books delivered by the five riders to determine whether they fit into the university's curriculum. "Students have told us that when they visit [the library], books that affirm LGBT people are clearly absent," Katie Higgins, one of the Equality Ride's codirectors, said in a statement. "Having these books on the shelves would mean that our voices of hope don't fade when our bus pulls away."

After their library stop, the five riders sang hymns and held conversations with about 40 Liberty students in a campus courtyard, while the other riders gathered at a Starbucks off-campus in Lynchburg and met with students there. "Every rider has a unique story," rider Nicholas Rocco DeFinis said in a statement. "Since all of the Liberty students we spoke to seemed genuinely interested in this discussion, we wanted them to be able to hear all of our voices."

This year's reception by Liberty was markedly different from the inaugural Equality Ride's visit to the school in 2006, when more than 20 riders and allies were arrested for trespassing as they tried to enter campus. Founded by Jerry Falwell, the Baptist school reserves the right to reprimand gay and lesbian students and subject them to "conversion" therapy; they can also be expelled. Falwell died of heart failure last May at age 73.

Higgins told The Advocate on Thursday that students have been kind and receptive to their visit, many of them familiar with the organization. "In some cases, as soon as students realize who we are, a few remembered Soulforce from when we went to their church during the American Family Outing," she said. "We have met with a lot of students who tell us stories very similar to ours. All in all, we're still on our personal journey of being accepted in the end." (Sean Kennedy and Michelle Garcia, TheAdvocate)

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