Soulforce So/Cal Conference Reaches Out to LGBTQ Students Organizing at Christian Colleges
I’m not alone, right? There are people – very, very beautiful people – who are standing right behind me and who have my back…If it doesn’t end up impacting my campus, at the least, it’s impacted my soul. – Student from Vanguard University
On Saturday March 16, Soulforce Delegate Ellie Ash-Bala held a first-of-its-kind conference for students from Christian colleges in Southern California that are forming groups for support and organizing to change the culture of anti-LGBTQ discrimination on their campuses. Students came from Azusa Pacific University, Biola University, Vanguard University, La Sierra University, Loma Linda University, and Fuller Theological Seminary, for what many of them are already calling a life-changing event.
Ellie Ash-Bala: Thoughts on the first Soulforce SoCal Conference
Last Saturday I spent the day with about 30 young people from six Christian universities in Southern California. It was the first ever day-long conference like this in Southern California for LGBTQ students and allies. Many of the students in attendance cannot speak or organize publicly on their campuses for fear of administrative repercussions. But in the last several years these campuses have all begun to see underground, unofficial student groups forming around LGBTQ issues and identity. As the Southern California Soulforce Delegate, I wanted to provide a space of encouragement, connection and support for these students–to let them know they are not alone.
They day began with a talk followed by Q & A with Mel White, Soulforce Founder. He told stories of the beginning of the movement to push back against the Religious Right’s homophobic rhetoric. He spoke about being arrested and learning the principles of non-violent resistance from Gandhi & King. Mel shared that the root of any nonviolent movement must be in mercy and justice. Doing mercy is about acts of love, compassion and healing for those who are suffering. Doing justice is about getting at the root of the problem so that others don’t have to experience the same suffering. He reminded all of us in the room that we stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us and he encouraged the students to be courageous forces for change on their campuses.
After lunch together, the group split up to go to various workshops of their choosing. We had several of the schools’ alumni, as well as other activists, who facilitated workshops on Coming Out, Reclaiming Scripture, Gender & Sexuality, Trans* Connections, and Organizing for Change on Campus.
Rev. Darren McDonald shared with students that the Bible does not condemn them and they don’t have to leave their faith behind to embrace their sexual identity. Soulforce Board Member Chris Carr led a discussion to get students thinking about how to organize for change on their campuses in the face of official opposition. Soulforce Delegate from Sacramento, Nora Wiliams, a licensed therapist, was on hand all afternoon to offer students a free 30 min consultation session with a therapist. It was amazing to walk around the building and see small groups of students talking, learning, asking questions and gathering new tools to make a difference for themselves and for their LGBTQ peers at Christian colleges.
The goal for this event was to connect, encourage and equip students at Christian universities in the area. Based on the responses from the students that I have gathered so far, I am proud to say the event was a huge success. Here is what some students have shared so far:
When asked about what was most impactful and memorable about the event, one student said “Mel White! The comments he made about the Holy Spirit gave me a sense of peace about coming out.”
Juan C. Bordes, from Loma Linda University, said “The workshops were so extremely helpful. It seems like in such a short time I was able to gain so much. I left equipped for sure!”
One student, who asked to remain anonymous, said, “It was so nice to share the frustrations that come with organizing on Christian campuses, not too many other people in the world know exactly the struggles I go through. This conference was one of the highlights in my time as an activist.”
Another student, Mark Anthony, from Vanguard University, said, “For me personally, I was able to put a lot of things in perspective. It was spiritually moving and in an important sense it brought me peace… I’m not alone, right? There are people – very, very beautiful people – who are standing right behind me and who hardily have my back. Whoa, this might have been the best blessing of all. If it doesn’t end up impacting my campus, at the least, it’s impacted my soul.”