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Young Crusaders

Young Crusaders


Jake Reitan and Haven Herrin

Jake Reitan comes from a devout Lutheran family, but it wasn't faith that led him to get involved with Soulforce, one of the country's most outspoken religious LGBT organizations. "My mother called and said she wanted me to go to a Soulforce protest with her," he says. "I said I would go if she would get arrested with me. We ended up getting arrested together, and it was an incredibly moving experience."

Reitan, 24, and his Soulforce colleague Haven Herrin, also 24, are leading a crusade to energize other queer youths to stand up and be heard. In March they led a group that embarked on the first Equality Ride, a two-month bus tour of colleges, universities, and military academies--

including West Point and Jerry Falwell's Liberty University--that are hostile to LGBT students. The riders' uninvited stops at conservative campuses triggered mixed reactions; they had respectful meetings at some schools but were immediately arrested at others.

"The Equality Ride taught me that real courage is the willingness to have conversations that you may not always win," Herrin says. "It's not about how well we argue; it's about love and kindness. In the end that's what's going to change people."

As remarkable as the Equality Ride was, Reitan and Herrin didn't stop at that in an amazing year of activities. In

August they launched the Right to Serve campaign against the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy. Since then 44 young activists have tried unsuccessfully to enlist at recruitment centers across the nation. Some have been barred from speaking with recruiters or even been arrested. Either way, Reitan believes they're making an important point. " 'Don't ask, don't tell' is the most oppressive law facing LGBT people," he says.

The duo's confrontational tactics--they've been arrested 14 times between them--are a throwback to the sit-ins and public protests of the '60s. They say it's a brand of activism uniquely suited to queer youths. "Young adults are really good at saying here's what reality is, here's what it should be, and my, isn't there an uncomfortable difference between them," Herrin says. "You don't bring this conversation into people's communities by working behind the scenes. We have to get out into the streets."

For 2007, Reitan and Herrin are organizing a follow-up to Right to Serve and a second Equality Ride, this time with two buses. They are also planning a marriage equality action, Right to Marry, in which they will drop by the homes of state and U.S. senators in New York, California, and New Jersey. "You've got to believe in your own potential to make things happen," Reitan says. "If you've got a vision for an America that you want to create, then get out there and create it."

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