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Volume 35
Issue 14
 
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Soulforce's crusade for Equality comes to Washington State
Soulforce's crusade for Equality comes to Washington State
by Liz Meyer - SGN Contributing Writer

It could very well be Pastor Ken Hutcherson's worst nightmare.

Two buses full of young LGBT misfits are traveling across the country, spreading a message of tolerance and acceptance throughout various universities. And one bus is headed right for us.

But if that weren't enough to scare the bejeezus out of bigots both near and far, here's the rub: almost all of the bus riders represent that still seemingly incongruous convergence, the place where "Queer" meets "Christian." Evangelical Christian, even.

Kourt Osborn, a young Transgender man riding on the West Coast bus, acknowledges that many view "Queer" and "Christian" as mutually exclusive.

"A lot of fundamentalist Christians, and some certain members of my family, would say there's a paradox there," says Osborn.

He also concedes that, for him at least, identifying as Queer takes precedence in some ways.

"If someone was like, 'Pick one,' I would definitely pick being Queer, because that's just who my friends are. I don't really say I'm Christian and Queer, I say I'm Queer and Christian."

However, Osborn says he hasn't really had to make that choice.

"Everyone has been really cool. They think it's great that I'm combining LGBT activism with my Christianity ," he says. "They think it's really badass."

Soulforce, an interfaith activist organization, stages the bus tour, known as the Equality Ride. In two months, the Equality Ride visits 32 Christian colleges and universities in 27 states.

Like its members, the group has what may appear to be fairly unorthodox origins. Rev. Dr. Mel White founded Soulforce upon the teachings of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. Before that, though, White was a ghostwriter for fellow evangelicals, including Billy Graham, Pat Robertson, Jim Bakker, and Jerry Falwell.

As for the driving force behind the Ride? Upon a grander scale, the group hopes to achieve "freedom for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people from religious and political oppression through the practice of relentless non-violent resistance," according to the group's website. However, in some ways, Soulforce's mission statement perhaps obscures what the Freedom Ride is really about at its most basic level: speaking to as many people as possible about what it means to be both religious and Queer.

"There are a lot of lies that come out of Christian fundamentalist information about homosexuality," says Alexey Bulokhov, the West Bus co-Director. "To filter that and know the reality of what it means to be LGBT and Christian, and to not be afraid to engage in this conversation because it's important, is crucial."

The fifty Equality Riders who volunteer to journey across the country are a diverse group, and certainly not all of the riders identify as Christian. Almost all of them, however, come from some sort of background involving religious persecution, Bulokhov says.

"We have riders who have been kicked out of their homes by their parents," says Bulokhov. "We have riders who have been kicked out of schools we've been visiting."

Soulforce makes a point of returning to sites like these, those places where Equality Riders have been unwelcomed in the past. Bulokhov explains that this idea, of confronting past points of oppression, is central to the Ride.

"They may be the places we're most needed. The riders all return to the communities from which they're from," he says. "They've become stronger advocates for continuing this process of open dialogue. "

The campus visits consist of meeting with university students and administrators to talk about sexuality and religion. Bulokhov says the Equality Riders oftentimes engage in discussions about interpretations of scripture or other sacred text in regards to sexuality, in the hopes of "open dialogu[ing] these issues of faith."

Arranging these dialogues certainly hasn't been easy for Soulforce, though. Wikipedia credits Soulforce members as having been arrested over 1,000 times, including Osborn's very public arrest at Brigham Young University in March. Additionally, Bulokhov says several schools refuse to even begin discussions with his organization.

That being said, the organization has made some powerful allies. In a recent incident in Clinton, Mississippi, where the Clinton Police Department ordered the bus to leave town upon its arrival, the leaders of six major LGBT advocacy groups stepped in on Soulforce's behalf. The heads of Lambda Legal, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, the Log Cabin Republicans and the Human Rights Campaign wrote a joint letter to the mayor of Clinton deploring her town's response to Soulforce.

This power pact of major LGBT organizations coming to pinch-hit for Soulforce presents an intriguing shift, considering Rev. White's former affiliation with such notorious homophobes as Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell.

"We oftentimes collaborate with mainstream organizations," says Bulokhov. "But we do things independently, too. We headquarter out the Midwest. There's not a major national Gay rights organization that operates out of the heartland. We felt it was important to us to go where the work may be needed most, in the heartland of America."

As far as gauging the success of their mission, Bulokhov says he's prepared for a "gradual, continuous and difficult" battle. However, he maintains that the journey has been a very fulfilling and productive one thus far.

"When we present the opportunity for open discussion and dialogue," Bulokhov says, "there are a lot of people who say they don't agree with these thoughts. This is a very healthy process for communities to go through. We can come together despite our differences of opinions."

The Equality Riders will be at Seattle Pacific University and Northwest University on Wednesday, April 11th, with times to be announced. For more information, visit www.soulforce.org.

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