April 25, 2012 1 Comment
About 25 people gathered to meet and learn from a group that is making its way across the country in the name of equality, on Tuesday night.
The SoulForce Equality riders, chosen each year from hundreds of applicants, travel throughout the country for two months visiting communities and college campuses.
To end political and spiritual oppression felt by those in the LGBTQ community.
Over a potluck meal, held at the Boise Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, the group of 17 riders, ages 18-31, shared their personal stories of why they got involved. They also took the time to make some personal connections with those who came to welcome them.
Earlier in the day, at a press conference on the Capital steps, rider Zachary Pullin said one of the biggest things the group does is work to reconcile faith identity with those who identify as lesbian, gay, transgender and queer,”We try to visit campuses that have discriminatory polices against the LGBTQ community, whether they be explicit policies that say you can’t be LGBTQ or an ally, to some schools where you can be kicked out for being LGBTQ identified.”
While the riders didn’t visit any Idaho schools during their tour this year, eight previous riders were arrested at BYU-Idaho in 2007.
Pullin also said the group is extremely troubled by the actions of Idaho lawmakers during this year’s legislative session, “I know that there were a couple of setbacks in Idaho this year by not including sexual orientation or gender identity in the Human Rights act and by not passing the bullying act. We really understand that a lot of lawmakers are influenced by their religion. We are here to say that you can be LGBTQ and Christian! To use your faith as an excuse to not include sexual orientation or gender identity in the human rights act, there’s no excuse for that,” he said.
Following the dinner, the crowd watched, “Live free of Die,” a new documentary exploring the faith, struggles and confirmation of openly gay Episcopalian Bishop Gene Robinson. The film fit well with the ride’s mission.
After the screening, the riders opened themselves up for questions and answers.
Interfaith Alliance of Idaho’s Executive Director, Pam Baldwin, asked the group about their much publicized meeting with LDS church officials in Salt Lake the day before.
While some riders expressed disappointment that they weren’t able to meet with any high-ranking leaders, Jason Conner, co-director of the Equality Ride and director of programs for SoulForce, said he was “cautiously optimistic” about the meeting.
“We are one of the first LGBTQ groups to meet with church officials and not be tied an agreement of secrecy.” Conner said. “We were also able to find some common ground. Those we met with agreed that no kid who identifies him or herself as LGBTQ should ever be shunned by their families or kicked out of their homes. Hopefully there’s a 13-year old out there who is sleeping in their own bed tonight because of that meeting.”
Several riders identified their experiences in Colorado as being their most meaningful. There, four of the riders were arrested at Colorado Christian University for attempting to hold an on-campus Bible study. The group was also able to meet with leaders of the notoriously anti-gay Evangelical organization, “Focus on the Family”, headquartered in Colorado Springs.
“We found some common ground with them as well,” Conner said.
“I’m pretty confident hearts are being changed across the country. I’m seeing it with my own eyes. It’s amazing!” one rider enthusiastically told the crowd.
Following the stop in Boise, the group headed to Portland.
They will wrap up their tour in San Fransisco.