Thursday, September 11, 2008

Soulforce Equality Ride to visit Morehouse, Spelman
Gay advocacy group travels to dozens of campuses across the South
By DYANA BAGBY | Sep 10, 5:10 PM

Morehouse College and Spelman College, two historically black universities in Atlanta, are on the list of higher education institutions in the South to be visited by youth members of Soulforce on its annual “Equality Ride.”

“As young people and students ourselves, we understand that it’s very difficult to learn in an environment where you don’t feel safe,” Jarrett Lucas, 21, co-director of the Equality Ride, said in a statement.

Soulforce Q, the youth division of Soulforce, a national faith-based gay advocacy organization, plans on having 17 lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and straight members visit 15 schools to “bring a message of inclusion and safety,” according to a press release.

“[S]tudents who face harassment or expulsion can’t always speak up for themselves,” Lucas added. “That’s where we come in. We can speak up for a community where everyone can learn without fear.”

Soulforce Q members are scheduled to visit Morehouse on Oct. 9 and Spelman on Oct. 10.

Morehouse has faced several issues with anti-gay sentiments on campus in recent years, most notably in 2002 when former Morehouse student Aaron Price beat a classmate in a dormitory shower with a baseball bat after he claimed the classmate made an unwanted sexual advance toward him. Price, who used a “gay panic" defense, was originally sentenced to 10 years in prison for the beating but later had his sentence reduced.

Despite the anti-gay incidents, there have been organized efforts on Morehouse’s campus to end the all-male college’s lingering reputation of homophobia, including an anti-homophobia workshop held in 2007. An openly gay student and the campus’ Safe Space program, that offers resources for gay students, held a “No More ‘No Homo’ Initiative” earlier this year.

Lesbian author and activist Audre Lorde bequeathed her personal papers to Spelman College, an all-female campus, after she died of cancer.

The Equality Ride began in 2006 and since that time, Soulforce members have visited 50 schools as a way “to inspire further conversation and to empower students, faculty, and administrators to make their school welcoming to all students," according to the group.

Soulforce members also do not drop in without informing college administrators first through written correspondence and asking to working together to make the trip a safe and productive one, according to Equality Ride organizers.

This is the first year Soulforce is visiting historically black colleges.

“We know that young people want to be part of the solution that heals divided communities, churches, and schools,” said 26-year-old Katie Higgins, co-director of the Equality Ride. “We’re reaching out to these schools, because we can’t heal those rifts until everyone has a place at the table.”