Soulforce Riding for Justice
March 05 2010 7:27 PM EST
November 17 2015 5:28 AM EST
Believing in the power of people to change hearts and minds, 28 young people boarded a bus in Baltimore Thursday to set out ON the fourth Soulforce Q Equality Ride, traveling to Christian colleges and universities from New York to Texas over the next two months to fight faith-based homophobia and other forms of bigotry.
"We're focusing on intersectional justice," says ride director Caitlin MacIntyre, referring to the relationship between various types of prejudice, whether based on sexual orientation, gender identity, race, class, sex, religion, or other factors. "We think that all those oppressions intersect."
To battle such oppression, the Equality Riders aim to start conversations with students and staff at the schools they visit. The riders engaging in this mission are a diverse group. "We have people from all different communities, with all different experiences," MacIntyre says.
This year's contingent -- 25 riders, plus MacIntyre and codirectors Andi Gentile and Asher Kolieboi -- includes four transgender people and two straight allies, with the remainder identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or, like MacIntyre, queer. The riders range in age from roughly 18 to 28, and they are from all over the United States, with one, Despina Michaelidou, from Cyprus. The event this year has its first physically disabled rider, Colin Daniels. One participant, Brian Adkins, is the son of a Pentecostal evangelist; others come from faith backgrounds as varied as Seventh-Day Adventist, Baptist, and Unitarian.
MacIntyre, for her part, saw her relationship with her Christian faith turned upside down when her father, a church organist, came out as gay. While their church did not openly preach homophobia, it was clear that the family was no longer held in high esteem. MacIntyre is happy to report that her father has a loving and supportive partner, and both have found acceptance in the family. Her mother, she says, has not only forgiven her ex-husband but become an advocate for LGBT inclusion in their church.
"My family is one of the important driving forces in my life," says MacIntyre, who became a rider in the fall 2008 Equality Ride to be a voice for families like hers and found the experience so positive that she signed on to direct this year's ride. "We had a lot of really awesome and meaningful conversations that changed lives," she says.
She notes that students on some of the campuses had never heard an affirming word about LGBT people until the Soulforce contingent visited. She believes the riders' presence has not only helped LGBT youths feel less alone and rejected but forced straight students to reconsider their prejudices. After meeting an LGBT person, "it's hard to think of [that identity] as an abstract sin," MacIntyre says.
Some campuses have been less than welcoming to the Equality Ride in the past, with riders even being arrested, but several of the schools on this year's list have indicated they're happy to have the riders there. Two of the schools, Abilene Christian University and Mississippi College, have been Equality Ride stops previously, but the other 14 are new.
This year, more than ever, the riders will try to engage not just college students and staff but also the surrounding community in dialogue about LGBT identity and issues, MacIntyre says. As always, she adds, the goal is to empower LGBT people and their allies to continue working for inclusion and equality after the riders move on. "Change comes from the people in those communities and on those campuses," she says.
To see all the riders and their route, visit Soulforce.org.