Equality Ride hits the road for justice, acceptance

By Nick Mattos, PQ Monthly

Equality Riders are bringing their message of nonviolent resistance activism to cities nationwide.

Students, administrators, activists, and churchgoers alike were brought together last month when the traveling activist initiative Equality Ride rolled through Portland, spreading the good news of “relentless nonviolent resistance.”

A project of queer rights organization Soulforce, the Equality Ride was established as a traveling forum to give young adults the chance to deconstruct institutional injustice towards queer people and the rhetoric that sustains it. Now in its sixth year, the Ride has engaged with over 70 academic institutions whose policies discriminate against LGBTQ individuals.

“The Equality Ride has a few different objectives,” explains participant J. Mason. “The most obvious one: we want these policies to change! We want to create spaces where people are honored and affirmed regardless of their sexual or gender identity — safe spaces for everybody. Two, the schools that we are visiting produce more U.S. Senators than any other schools in the country. These religious schools aren’t just impacting the religious environment, they’re also impacting the political sphere — creating legislation and spaces that are unfriendly towards LGBTQ folks. We want to impact those future leaders before they become parents or political leaders or preachers in the pulpit. Third, we want to cultivate more LGBTQ and allied activists. The opportunity to pick up for two months and [be] trained in community organizing all across the country is a big deal for many people that maybe haven’t even been outside of their own town before or accessed the sorts of resources that they interact with on the Ride.”

Oregon was the 11th stop for the 17 Equality Riders — the second to last on their two-month nationwide tour. However, despite the long journey leading up to it, riders such as Mason say that their visits near Portland from April 25 through April 28 were some of the tour’s best experiences.

The group stopped at George Fox University, where the school’s community handbook states that the only applicable definition of marriage is between a man and a woman, and only sexual contact within that marriage is biblically sanctioned.

“[We] were able to meet with the students and administrators to draw attention to the policies there and explore why their policies are harmful to LGBTQ people,” Mason says.

In addition, the Equality Ride team also stopped at SMYRC, the Metropolitan Community Church, Central Lutheran Church, Lincoln High School, and Portland State University to host events such as activism trainings, educational sessions, meet-and-greet dialogues, and even a “story-sharing” suicide prevention presentation. As part of their commitment to making a positive impact upon the community at large, the Equality Ride participants also did a service project with local nonprofit Growing Gardens, installing gardens in areas of Portland where fresh produce can be hard to come by.

It’s been a long journey for the Equality Ride participants — and Soulforce recognizes that the road to justice is even broader than simply winning equal rights for queer people.

“What we [as an organization] are mindful of is what we term ‘intersectional justice,’” participant Chelsea Fullerton says. “Justice is not about just one cause, or one group of people. Justice is about facing every single kind of oppression, be it racism, classism, heterosexism, what have you. … We recognize that no two forms of oppression are distinct. If we are freed as LGBTQ people from heterosexism, racism is still a reality within our community. Classism is still a reality within our community. We can’t be overly focused. We have to acknowledge that all forms of oppression impact us all.”

For more information about Soulforce and the 2012 Equality Ride, check out www.equalityride.com.