Starting this March, the Christian LGBT rights group Soulforce will be launching its fifth annual Equality Rides. The Equality Rides is based on the Freedom Rides of the early 1960s and they will consist of Christians who are either gay or are supporters of gay rights who will travel by bus around the country to visit hundreds of Christian schools in the United States that openly discriminate against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer individuals and their Allies (LGBTQA) through their policies and practices. They write on the Soulforce webpage their goals for the Equality Rides:
Since its inception, the Equality Ride has catalyzed conversations and dialogue at these otherwise silent institutions. We have witnessed real change in practices and policies. Riders have worked to establish and strengthen Queer/Straight alliances all across the country. People have been provided with safe spaces in which to address the suffering they often feel at the hands of their schools and/or faith communities. We strive to begin conversations at the institutions we visit. We go into these communities at the request and in collaboration with the very folks who are suffering in silence. We approach these communities with a relentless form of non-violent resistance.
Each year we bring in new riders who are given the best training in the non-violence method as well as training on how to organize to end the political and spiritual oppression felt by those in the LGBTQA community. In addition to this training – riders are taught to approach oppression from an intersectional lens – learning to fight racism, ableism, misogyny, classism, homophobia, transphobia, patriarchy, and other oppressive systems.
Soulforce, the organization that is sponsoring the Equality Rides, was founded by Reverand Dr. Mel White and his partner Gary Nixon to organize Evangelical Christians who are either gay or who support LGBT rights to fight to end the homophobia in the Christian church. To accomplish this, Soulforce has adopted the nonviolent civil disobedience tactics of M.K. Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. confront the prejudice and discrimination in the Christian religion. According to their website:
Soulforce is a national non-profit that works nonviolently to end the religious and political oppression of LGBTQ people. While we are not ourselves a faith-based organization, we lead from the understanding that oppressive religious beliefs, civil rights abuses and anti-feminist attitudes that oppress LGBTQ people are interrelated. We envision a world in which social justice movements are inclusive and collaborative as we help make it possible for all people, regardless of chosen or inherent identities, to have access, opportunity and security.
Our roots are in challenging religion-based oppression because the religious right is a powerful cultural and political agent with financial force underpinning its work. The beliefs, actions and rhetoric of the religious right lead to the loss of jobs, healthcare, educational access, financial security, and social inclusion for LGBTQ people. When we challenge the political platform of the religious right from our LGBTQ context, we are also challenging other forms of oppression including sexism, racism and classism.
Since our inception, we have implemented our work with a dedication to the nonviolent principles of M.K. Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. As such, we are called to work with mindfulness to both process and product: honoring that people are at the heart of politics and recognizing that how we work is as important as what we are working towards. This dedication includes a commitment to racial and economic justice because we understand that systems of oppression are interwoven; as we progress towards one element of justice, we strive to make other forms of oppression visible and uproot them them.
I personally thing that Soulforce and the Equality Rides are on the right track in fighting homophobia within the Christian church. In the 1990s, I attended an Evangelical Church for 8 years, and if you scratch the surface, you find a lot of diversity of thought among Evangelicals when it comes to LGBTQ people. Many Evangelicals think homosexuality is a sin and disdain gays and lesbians. But I found a few Evangelicals who are either gay or lesbian or who support LGBT rights and keep quiet about it so that they don't go against the crowd. And I met Christians who may think homosexuality is a sin but also had gay and lesbian friends and family members whom they deeply care about, and told me stories of how these loved ones were harassed and shunned by their fellow Christians at church. Though it's been over a decade since I last attended an Evangelical Church, I think that diversity of thought is still there. So I believe the Equality Rides can reach many Christians who sympathize with their message in their visits to various Christian colleges.
I'm glad that Christians are now speaking out for their LGBT friends and family members. And I'm especially happy that Evangelicals, Catholics and Mormons are speaking out for gay rights. In 2008, leaders of the Evangelical, Catholic and Mormon churches lead the effort in California to pass Proposition 8, which outlawed gay marriage in California. I knew Evangelicals, Catholics, and Mormons who were against Proposition 8, and they bravely spoke out against their church leaders' support of the proposition. Below are Evangelical, Catholic and Mormon groups fighting for LGBT rights.
DIGNITY USA fights for the rights of LGBT Catholics within the Catholic Church. Athe United States, Dignity USA worships openly with other GLBT and supportive Catholics, socialize, share personal and spiritual concerns, and work together on educational and justice issues.
NEW WAYS MINISTRY is a gay-positive ministry of advocacy and justice for lesbian and gay Catholics and reconciliation within the larger Christian and civil communities. Through research, publication and education about homosexuality, the ministry fosters dialogue among groups and individuals, identify and combat personal and structural homophobia, work for changes in attitudes and promote the acceptance of gay and lesbian people as full and equal member of church and society. Here is a link to their facebook page.
AFFIRMATION serves the needs of gay Mormon women and men, as well as bisexual and transgender LDS and their supportive family and friends, through social and educational activities.
CATHOLICS FOR EQUALITY was founded in 2010 to support, educate, and mobilize Catholics in the advancement of freedom and equality at the federal, state, and local levels for our lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered family, parish and community members. Here is a link to their facebook page
FAITH IN AMERICA is an Evangelical group fighting religious based bigotry that encompasses the attitudes of prejudice, hostility or discrimination that are falsely justified by religious teachings or belief. Here is a link to their facebook page
A youtube video of the 2012 Equality Rides Co-Directors
Youtube videos of past Equality Rides of Soulforce