Berkeley Inspires Riders to More Preparation
One of the constant companions of the Equality Ride is the sense of anticipation. With the exception of the west bus co-directors and me, this two month adventure is a giant unknown for all of the west bus Riders. Where will we sleep tonight? What’s this church that is hosting our dinner tonight going to be like? Will we get to meet students and make new friends today…or, will we be greeted by a contingency of police and threatened with immediate arrest? It’s not unlike a day in most of our lives…it just feels like there are hugely different implications.
It’s with that sense of anticipation that we boarded the bus in Calabasas, a small town just over the mountain from Malibu, CA and Pepperdine University. We’d had a wonderfully satisfying two days at Pepperdine and were now headed up to the San Francisco Bay area, specifically Berkeley, home of the Free Speech movement of the ‘60’s and so many other movements for the liberation of oppressed people, for two days of group work, tweaking our presentations, addressing our strengths and weaknesses in how we interact with the college and university communities with which we’re meeting. Everyone feels the responsibility of doing our very best as we have unique opportunities to connect with students at our upcoming “dialogue” schools.
Fresno Pacific University, with a student handbook statement which states ”The University is opposed to homosexual, premarital and extramarital sexual relations” is our next stop. With such an exclusionary statement as this, there’s no safe space for LGBT students at FPU. We are determined to bring with us, some way, some gift from God, that will create a more open and safe atmosphere for FPU’s LGBT students.
So, our work here in Berkeley feels really vital. Hosted by long time Soulforce friend Pastor Jeff Johnson at the University Lutheran Chapel (located just a few short blocks from University of California Berkeley campus), we spent nearly eight full hours reaching even more deeply for the stories and presentations that will effectively communicate the life or death nature of our visit. We know that suicide is too often the chosen response to the condemnation and intolerance of many of these Christian schools and everyone of us are radically committed to bringing this confused and dangerous system of religion based oppression down. Like David standing against Goliath, we have our sling loaded with pebbles of truth and of new thought and we’re determined to “slay the giant.”
We broke into groups and self analyzed our behavior on past campuses…how did we interact with students? Did we approach them with a loving spirit? Were there too many of us in the groups? How can we represent LGBT people with integrity and genuine love? Back in the larger group of all 26 Riders…we shared where we thought we were effective and where we needed to work to improve.
Then, we repeated the process looking specifically at our language. Stories. Verses. Tone. Slang. Everything we could think of that just might make a difference between inclusion and exclusion of LGBT students. I think all of us carry a huge burden of representing LGBT people in a positive way. While none of us are alike, it feels vital that we show up in a manner that doesn’t get in the way of our message–that neither our appearance nor our words would take away from the possibility of enlightenment.
On Friday, our second day in Berkeley, we had time for the everyday chores that accompany a tour such as this. Some of us washed clothes or traveled to a grocery store to “re-stock” our traveling mini-pantries. And at noon, we boarded the bus for a short but exciting afternoon/evening in the city…San Francisco! The City by the Bay! And more! We started the afternoon with a tour of the GLBT History Center on Mission Street. Tucked away unobtrusively on the third floor of a downtown office building, the Center has a huge archive of GLBT history…everything from Harry Hay to the Daughters of Bilitis are chronicled here–history that many college age LGBT people haven’t had the opportunity to learn.
And then…folks set off for an all too short tour of one of America’s great cities. The bridge…the Haight…the Castro…the Wharf. So much to see and so little time! But the Equality Ride isn’t really about touring or shopping or having a good time. Our first commitment is to bringing down this system of religion based oppression that is stifling voices and causing so much pain in our lives and the lives of our families. I hope we can all come back to San Francisco and Berkeley in a few short years…when the truth of every LGBT person’s worth is unquestioned, and when every human being is respected for the intrinsic value within each of us.