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by Vince Cervantes
It was the final stop of the Equality Ride. For the first time, both buses were going to be visiting a school together. It was almost surreal. Seeing over fifty Equality Riders instead of just twenty-six was amazing. Looking to my left and right, it was great to see two people from the westbound bus. It was beyond a beautiful moment–it was a moment in time that cannot be replaced.
After standing in vigil for over an hour, all the Riders and many community members prepared to step onto campus. It was a beautiful thing to see over eighty people start walking onto campus because they felt the need for this conversation and truly wanted to deliver a message of love, only to be stopped by law enforcement and administration and turned away. Ten Riders kneeled in front of them–this time, half from the West bus and half from the East bus. It was incredible to see the symbol of unity in this message and effort. Many of us were brought to tears.
Many students soon came to engage in conversations with us about how they felt about the topic of “homosexuality.” Some of the students were being friendly, others not quite so. I personally met some students that were very fixed on the thought that we were basically satanic. But I could see how all the Riders were really demonstrating this amazing message of love. It was quite interesting to see how these students were reacting to how loving and polite we were. It was almost as if they didn’t expect us to be courteous.
This stop was really intriguing for me. It challenged me in many ways to know how to express the love I want them to see in me. They recognized this love in us. Although they weren’t returning the same love entirely, they surely noticed that we were seeing beauty and humanity in them. In the end, I feel they noticed the same in us, but were unable to show they noticed it.
Through the conversations that I had with students, I could get a sense of the environment that exists on campus. Hearing what they were taught about homosexuality makes me fear for the LGBT students on campus. But they got the message they really needed when we came. They heard it too.
by Abigail Reikow
I stare out a window in Minneapolis, MN – the starting point for this entire journey. In my directors’ apartment, we sit around with computers on our laps and pizza boxes on the floor, frantically moving to bring this trip to a close; filling out evaluations, sending thank you notes and postcards, emailing our schools so that classes are all set when we return. The outward motions move quickly, but I’m not sure the same could be said for the processes in our hearts. I would like to believe that I am not alone in writing that part of me wishes this weren’t coming to a close, that we weren’t wishing each other goodbye, that the weight of realizing that this may be our last time together is almost too much to carry.
I am starting to think about what my mind and heart will have to endure in processing these past two months and not quite sure what will be left when that process is over. At this point all I can say is that I am permanently changed, inspired, and motivated to see to that efforts such as these do not merely fade into the background of my life’s history. I keep trying to find myself when I look in the mirror and then I realize that it is not me who is staring back but rather who I have become. All I have to articulate that experience are these words and this space.
In an effort to begin the processing I look at a map on the wall in disbelief: we’ve traveled half the country, from the plains of Iowa, through the swamps of Mississippi, across the mountains of Georgia, and back up to the trees of Massachusetts. I know right now that I did not bring enough film. We’ve had innumerable conversations, faced police hostility in a number of states, sat in jail for nearly thirty hours, listened to the screams of people who swear we are eternally damned, been embraced with warm arms from communities and churches, and came back to gift bags prepared for us by our fellow Riders from the West bus who were eagerly waiting our arrival. Even if I could begin to illustrate the motions inside my mind, this page would not suffice. I could write until my fingers cramped and it would still feel unfinished. Perhaps that feeling is what will motivate me to continue this work through some other means when I return home.
As I begin sending out last emails to our sponsors and supporters I think about how lucky we’ve been to have so many people who believe in us. Young adults are somewhat discouraged at times when they tell people they have a dream only to receive a pat on the head and some patronizing words of encouragement. But our supporters have sincerely followed our journey, sent us emails and words of perseverance, and continue to keep the glow of the flames burning. To them I would like to say thank you – you are much of what has sustained us when we thought we wouldn’t make it and still retain sanity throughout this journey.
When I think of my Riders, I start feeling a space widening in my chest realizing that we won’t be sharing a bed together, that dance parties on the bus are over, and that your voices won’t be singing with mine. I am listening to your laughs one room over and the sound of your footsteps shuffling down the hall. I shudder at the approach of our departure creeping in with the breeze as I look out this window, singing in my head a favorite Rolling Stones song, “Til the next time we say goodbye, I’ll be thinking of you…”
Tuesday morning began just before nine o’clock. The bus pulled up to Cornerstone University, and we got off and headed toward the chapel, where the administration planned to debrief regarding our visit. Given that many Riders are of a Christian faith, and we had just spent two days conversing with Cornerstone students, it seemed appropriate for us to worship with our new friends, and also it made sense to be involved in a conversation about us. Several schools in the past had invited us to be a part of the debriefing, and though Cornerstone hadn’t officially invited us, the event was open to the public, so we showed up, many of us with our bibles, and sat among the students we had been conversing with in the days prior.
At 9:10, chapel was opened with a prayer, and then an administrator came down and, after making an analogy that compared the Equality Ride to the terrorists of 9/11, asked us to leave, and said he would give us 5 minutes to comply. Katie went to speak with him, and told him of our desire to be a part of the worship service, and to ask why he would choose to keep us from the house of G-d, to which he replied that “this isn’t a church.” After 5 minutes, most of the Riders left the chapel to stand vigil outside, along with several students who saw the absurdity. Angel and myself stayed behind, and the self-same administrator came down, and explained that the plan for the day had been for a group of administrators to explain the Equality Ride visit from their perspective, but, because of our disruption (by sitting unobtrusively in the room), there was no way they could get through everything that they needed to get through, and they cancelled chapel. They asked students instead to come to a “sexuality forum” to be held later this week.
As they were leaving, several students hugged us and smiled and said hello. One student thanked us for our willingness to come to Cornerstone. Angel and I, at that point, decided to go to the Cornerstone bookstore. The two of us hadn’t been asked to leave campus and hadn’t received any warnings from administration or police, so we asked a student to escort us to the bookstore to get some postcards.
After visiting the bookstore, as we walked back toward the chapel, a campus security guard called to us, and we turned to face him. He asked us where we had been, and we explained the whole story about chapel and then being escorted to the bookstore, and how we were heading back to join our friends. He waved the police over, since he was “tired of warning us.” We tried to explain that we had not once been asked to leave campus, but the police came up behind us and cut the conversation short.
They asked for our identification. We both pulled them out of back pockets, and the one radioed in to have our records run. We were asked if we had been arrested before, and both in unison replied, “yes, sir”, then he asked for what, and again in unison we replied, “trespassing.” The officer gave us a funny look, but when we didn’t have any warrants on our record, we were asked for the first time to leave campus, which we did.
This stop really drove home to me how much work we have to do as Equality Riders. This school is less than an hour away from where I grew up, and the gay students there live in fear every day. Students at this school are indoctrinated in hate.
I give thanks to every student who, over the course of our time at this school, took the time to talk with us, and to try to find a place of understanding and reconciliation. You’ve taken a brave step, and I commend you for it. Now, let’s keep the conversation going.
Our day at Calvin began at noon. As the bus pulled onto campus, we were greeted by a gaggle of students who had volunteered to be our hosts for the day. My host, Audrey, greeted me with a smile and a name-tag, and we sat down and began looking over an article she had brought with her, regarding pastoral care for “homosexuals.” She had underlined parts she thought I might like to take a look at, and we talked about it for a while, until we went to lunch.
At lunch, I sat at a table with a bunch of administrators from other schools who are on a tentative list of schools for next year. They were brimming with questions about our mission, and how we conduct ourselves on campus. One woman said she seemed surprised at how “well-behaved and polite” we were, given that some of the non-welcoming schools have painted us in a negative light. I explained how much easier it is to justify inhospitality when you slander character of the group you’re being inhospitable to. Most importantly, I stressed that we do indeed just want to start a conversation.
After lunch, my host and I went down to the campus café and had coffee, and talked to students. One of her friends had come by campus specifically to talk with an Equality Rider—he had been a student at Calvin, but had dropped out shortly after coming out as gay. I sat and talked with him, while several Riders and their hosts, and whoever else dropped by, had a knitting circle, perling and parlaying.
After a little while, we had a presentation scheduled, so we all made our way to the room where the presentation was to be given. It was standing-room only, with about 2 dozen people standing outside of the doorways, listening.
After the presentation, the floor was open for questions. I can say that I was extremely proud of the Calvin community for the depth of their questions, and for being willing to talk about the issues that face the transgender community. There were too many questions to address within our time limits, which was a shame.
After the presentation, we rushed over to the dining hall. I was seated at a table with my host, two students who were amazing, and four faculty members (including a PC(USA) pastor). We had a great discussion about marriage equality, and I felt as if we made some real progress toward understanding one another. I gave each person a card with my e-mail address on it, so we could keep the discussion going after the day was over.
Next we had a panel, where we were asked questions about how our trip had been. Again, the Calvin community surprised me with the depth of their questions. It was really difficult for me to see all these concerned students and faculty and remember that this school is in the top 20 worst schools for LGBT students to attend, according to the Princeton Review.
After dinner, a student came up to me and hugged me, thanked me for speaking with her gay friend, who was really attempting to reconcile his faith and his sexuality. She asked me for advice on what she could do to make the school better. I hope I had an impact on her, and through her, on the rest of the community. I hope the same for the rest of the Calvin community.
by Amanda Harris
We walked quietly in single-file line to the edge of Cornerstone University just past 10:00 on Sunday night. As I walked, I mentally prepared myself for a long night of standing in silent vigil. We stood facing a building where students were gathered inside participating in a 12-hour worship service in preparation for our visit. One by one, we lit candles. We held them close to our chests, and the light illuminated our faces. We had come to let the students know we were thinking of them, too.
Students began gathering across from us, and it was too dark to see their faces, but we could see some of them pointing and standing on tip-toes to get glimpses of us over the hill that separated us. Several riders walked across the mound to the students and invited them to speak with us. The police immediately told the riders that we were not allowed on the property. And slowly, but surely, the students began bridging the divide between us. What ensued that night was a metaphorical bridging as well. We began talking with students and found ourselves sitting in large circles at the bottom of the hill discussing Cornerstone’s view on sexuality. We talked about the Queer students on campus, and many students shared insight about the friends they had that were forced to leave the school because of anti-gay harassment.
I was happy to hear a student say to me, “I really think a lot differently about you now. Our school said you were going to be shouting and holding signs… but you’re not. You’re out here holding candles. You’re just like us.”
We continued our conversations until 1:00 in the morning. When we left, I found that I couldn’t stop smiling. I was so grateful for the great conversations that I had and for the students’ willingness to bridge the physical and metaphorical divides between us to learn about our humanity.
The riders, unfortunately, had to be back at campus around 8:00 in the morning the next day, so we arrived puffy-eyed and yawning. We found yet again that students were happy to see us and were eager to show the Christian hospitality that their school had not afforded us. They brought us coffee and donuts and stood vigil with us, even in the rain and heavy wind. The wind blew so hard that it literally knocked several of us off our feet, and our ponchos flapped noisily as the wind gripped them and twisted them around our bodies.
At 10:30 a.m., riders Stephen Krebs and Matt Hill Comer, attempted to deliver a cornerstone to the university that riders Vince Cervantes and Vince Pancucci had created. They walked down the hill and onto campus, each carrying a side of the multi-colored stone. We watched, hoping that perhaps the school would see our loving intentions and change their minds. But they did not. And, several minutes later, the two young men were carried away in the back of a police car.
An adjunct professor of the college provided us with lunch, and we sat on the edge of the campus eating with students and answered their questions about faith, gender, and sexuality. Through the ride, I have come to a better understanding of the intersections of sexism and homophobia. They cannot exist without one another. The anxiety and misunderstanding about Queer lives centers around expected gender roles and norms—roles and norms supposedly sanctioned by Scripture. These beliefs then lead society to believe that gender is inherent and not social, which makes it harder to see the humanity in LGBTQ people.
We stood vigil for several more hours before heading to a local Panera to chat with students. A former student and current employee of the school gave us a piece of artwork that she created for us that symbolizes growth. The canvas is painted green with shattered mirror pieces on its surface forming a tree. When I look at it, I see my face reflecting in the tree. And I am reminded that through the Equality Ride, I have grown more spiritually and emotionally than I ever have before. This ride has influenced my life just as much as it has transformed students’ lives at the schools we have visited. We are all so blessed, for this is what nonviolence creates—a new place of understanding and truth…and above all, a place of growth.
by Robin Reynolds
Our days at Gordon College began with a Sunday night chapel service. Many of our riders were in attendance while some stayed back to tweak presentations. The chapel was dark, with two single candles at the front. Students led the worship service. Worship songs were sung, Scriptures read, and prayers offered up as Equality Riders and Gordon students joined together.
The second day, which was the first official day on campus, began with a wonderful dinner in the evening with selected students and administrators. The tables were equally mixed with Riders and members of the Gordon College community. Conversation rang across the room as we had the perfect opportunity to discuss the oppressive policy toward LGBT students that Gordon hails.
Later that evening, a group of Equality Riders shared a presentation entitled, “Loving Like Jesus.” A rebuttal was given by Dr. Stan Gaede. There was also a question and answer session where students passed up index cards with their questions to the moderator.
After leaving the pack-out presentation in the chapel, Riders field questions from students during a more informal discussion time in the student center. Conversations continued for over two hours before we retired to our hotel for the night.
The second official day began with a presentation from the “spiritual violence” team. Members of this group told the stories of many GLBT people who are survivors of spiritual and physical violence. Gordon offered a professor of Sociology for the morning rebuttal. He didn’t present a rebuttal, though. His presentation detailed examples of society’s “othering” of groups of people that helped them detach from the emotional response to the oppression of these groups. It was refreshing to hear that someone actual got.
Equality Riders were invited to visit and speak in a few of Gordon’s classes. I, along with two other Riders, met with the Student Government executive board. During this time, we discussed the steps that Student Government could take to foster a safe environment for the students they represent. Mobilization of LGBTQ students and allies, the formation of a Gay-Straight Alliance and possible future plans were discussed as foundational measures in forming a safe environment.
The day ended with lunch in the student cafeteria and another two hours of dialogue with students. I feel that most students welcomed the chance to discuss these human rights issues.
by Stephen Krebs
On Friday April 20, our second day in the Cedarville area, we met with community members for lunch at the Coretta Scott King Center on the campus of nearby Antioch College. Several openly LGBT alumni of Cedarville came to the lunch and we had the opportunity to share a meal and talk to them about their experience at the school. These brave alumni were also present for some of the activities on the Cedarville campus the day before.
Later on Friday, a church in Dayton, Ohio hosted the Equality Riders for a dinner with a variety of delicious home-cooked food. The dinner was followed by a worship service that included lots of music and a talk from local pastors who are affirming of LGBT people.
Overall, the visit to Cedarville was encouraging because we were able to have so many conversations with students. Although the administration welcomed the Equality Riders onto their campus and the students we met were friendly, it is clear that the environment for
LGBT students at the school still needs a lot of work. Several of the riders have stayed in touch with students from Cedarville who continue to ask questions and converse about faith and what it means to be gay, lesbian or transgender. Our visit helped to start a dialogue that we
hope will continue.