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.