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social sciences

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The Equality Ride

The Equality Ride is a student-led campaign directed at institutions of higher learning, especially Christian colleges and universities, that discriminate against glbtq people. The Soulforce riders (known as Soulforce Q) visit campuses around the country to initiate conversations with students about faith, sexual orientation, and gender identity. Some colleges allow the conversations between the Equality Riders and students; some do not. When access is denied, the Equality Riders stage nonviolent civil disobedience demonstrations.

In 2005, Soulforce began preparations for its national Equality Ride campaign in 2006 by conducting two student-led "test runs" at Liberty University in Virginia and the U.S. Naval Academy in Maryland.

Sponsor Message.

The "test run" at Liberty University was held in April 2005. More than 50 Soulforce riders participated. At first, they were received hospitably by Liberty students who offered them muffins and engaged in informative conversations with the riders. Unfortunately, Liberty's chancellor, Jerry Falwell, intervened, announcing, "Contrary to what others may think, this is not gay day at Liberty."

After eating lunch with students in the school cafeteria, the riders held a press conference to explain to the media that they were there to talk about the need for academic freedom and personal safety for all students at Liberty. At that point, campus security announced that the riders were no longer welcome and would be arrested if they reentered the campus. The riders left, believing they had already accomplished what they had hoped by talking to students and sharing stories.

The second Equality Ride "test run" was held in October 2005, when forty-five young adults from the Washington, D. C. area traveled to the United States Naval Academy to take a stand against the military's policy that bans openly gay Americans from enrolling at any of the military academies. Prior to the riders' arrival, the Naval Academy officials announced that Soulforce representatives would be arrested immediately if they tried to enter Academy property.

For half an hour after their arrival, the Soulforce group stood in silent vigil outside the Academy holding signs that read "Lift the Ban" and "Hear Us Out." After the vigil, Soulforce held a press conference featuring Reverend Tommie Watkins, a former midshipman who was discharged from the Academy in 1997 when it was discovered that he was gay.

After the press conference, the Soulforce group lined up to enter the Academy, assuming they would be arrested. Instead, the marines guarding the gate allowed them onto Academy grounds, and the Equality Riders and the midshipmen ate lunch together. After lunch, the Equality Riders, wearing their rainbow shirts, formed a line as the midshipmen left, shaking hands with those who were willing.

In 2006, the Soulforce-supported Equality Ride was divided into two groups (eastern and western), each group visiting 15 to 20 Christian colleges and universities.

In 2007, Baylor University in Waco, Texas, Covenant College in Lookout Mountain, Georgia, and Brigham Young University-Idaho in Rexburg, Idaho resisted the presence of the Soulforce Equality Riders on their campuses. Six young people were arrested at Baylor, four at Covenant, and eight at Brigham Young for "trespassing." All of the arrests were peaceful.

At Baylor, a Southern Baptist-affiliated university that aspires to membership among the national research universities, officials refused Soulforce's request to distribute literature on campus, making the university appear anti-intellectual and provincial. The arrests were prompted by Soulforce participants writing messages with chalk on campus sidewalks (a common practice on the campus), including Bible verses and other phrases such as "God loves you just as he made you." The six members were held overnight in the McLennan County jail.

The Future

Under Mel White's guidance, Soulforce has had a profound impact on many people who have heard its message of love and acceptance through education. White believes the only way to combat the religious right is "to take it to the streets," and that is exactly what Soulforce volunteers will continue to do so in order to challenge church policies of intolerance.

While Soulforce's work with Christian colleges and universities and its witness in support of clergy in mainstream denominations who are willing to reject institutional homophobia will continue, projects in the future are likely to focus on marriage equality, on family reconciliation, on support for the survivors of "ex-gay" reparative therapy, and on dialogue with the congregations of the so-called "mega-churches."

In April 2008, Soulforce celebrated its tenth anniversary with a reunion and gala while protesting at the United Methodist Church's General Conference in Fort Worth, Texas.

Victoria Shannon

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social sciences >> Overview:  Metropolitan Community Church

The Metropolitan Community Church, a Christian denomination founded to minister to the glbtq community, has grown into a worldwide ministry with over 40,000 members in 18 countries.

social sciences >> Overview:  New Right

The New Right, which emerged during the last two decades of the twentieth century, combines evangelical Christian morality with a political agenda in opposition to glbtq equality.

social sciences >> Overview:  Reparative Therapy

Reparative therapy is a dangerously misguided attempt, supported by homophobic religious organizations, to change a person's sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual.

social sciences >> Overview:  Roman Catholicism

Historically, the Roman Catholic Church may be the institution most responsible for the suffering of individuals involved in same-sex sexual relationships.

social sciences >> Overview:  Salvation Army

An Evangelical Christian sect founded in the nineteenth century, the Salvation Army has recently become an arm of right-wing conservatism.

social sciences >> Overview:  Same-Sex Marriage

Lesbian and gay couples have been fighting for the freedom to marry since the dawn of the modern glbtq struggle for equality; despite some success abroad, progress toward same-sex marriage in the United States has been slow.

social sciences >> Overview:  Southern Baptists

The Southern Baptists have become the most intolerant of the major American religious denominations, especially (but not exclusively) for their opposition to equal rights for gay men and lesbians.

social sciences >> Don't Ask, Don't Tell

The "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, in effect from 1993 until 2011, was a compromise intended to end discrimination against gay men and lesbians in the U. S. military, but it failed to halt discharges based solely on sexual orientation.

social sciences >> White, James Melville "Mel"

Mel White spent over thirty years serving the Evangelical Christian community; after struggling with his homosexuality for many years, he broke his ties with anti-gay religious leaders and became a glbtq activist.


Hogan, Becky. "Soulforce Kicks Off Tour at N[otre] D[ame]." The Observer (March 9, 2007):

Speltz, Karen, et al. Soulforce: A Brief History, 1999-2006. Lynchburg: Soulforce, 2007.

Soulforce Website:

White, Mel. Religion Gone Bad: The Hidden Dangers of the Christian Right. New York: Penguin, 2006.


    Citation Information
    Author: Shannon, Victoria  
    Entry Title: Soulforce  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2008  
    Date Last Updated August 12, 2008  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2008 glbtq, Inc.  


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