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Queer youth to
America: Get on the equality bus!

Queer youth to
America: Get on the equality bus!


We join the Equality Ride in progress... Inspired by the '60s' Freedom Riders, 33 young LGBT activists on a bus are invading the nation's antigay colleges. Here riders tell their stories of inspiration, hope, and getting arrested in their quest to change America

In high school, when Jake Reitan first learned of the 1960s' Freedom Riders, he was in awe. "It was an incredible era of youth activism," he says of the young black and white activists who traveled by bus through the South in 1961 protesting segregation. "A small group of youth came together and said, 'We're going to change the world'--and they did. I wanted to do that today with gay and lesbian youth."

Now 24, Reitan has realized that dream. He is codirector of the Soulforce Equality Ride, which began March 9. With codirector Haven Herrin and 31 other young, queer, and mostly Christian activists, the riders have been traveling to 18 Christian universities and military academies that bar openly gay students--plus Texas A&M University, home to the largest Reserve Officers' Training Corps program at any state school.

They arrive not to confront and condemn but to open dialogue to show that being Christian and queer are not mutually exclusive. Resistance from administrators has been considerable--and arrests for trespassing frequent--but they've also had countless productive meetings with students, professors, and others about religion-based oppression of gay people.

"I don't want to see social prejudice wrapped in the sanctification of the Bible," says Herrin, 24. "I want to say, 'We can question things without destroying your religion as you know it--that choice and information and science and exploration and thought have always been a part of defining what your religion is, and that faith is always evolving.' "

Though many riders were arrested at the first two stops in Virginia--Jerry Falwell's Liberty University in Lynchburg and Regent University in Virginia Beach--other schools on the seven-week trip have been more welcoming, including Abilene Christian University, two hours west of Dallas, where an Advocate photographer caught up with the riders.

At Abilene riders were able to mix freely with students and give presentations, leading to some surprising personal encounters. "We see individual acts of youth heroism across the country, but what is lacking is an interconnectivity, where we're all on the same page moving as a common force. That's what creates a movement," says Reitan, who will attend Harvard Divinity School in the fall. "The first day, I said to the riders, 'When I had the dream for the Soulforce Equality Ride, one person dreaming it is a beautiful idea, but that's all it is, an idea.' Now that we have 33 people dreaming the same idea, it's the beginning of a movement."

As the Equality Ride culminates April 26 at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, The Advocate asked some of the riders and those who support them to relate their experiences in their own words.

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

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