Soulforce rides into Keystone State

More than two-dozen activists will set off on a national bus tour next week to raise awareness about LGBT issues on college campuses, and the first stop will be right outside of Philadelphia.

The 2010 Equality Ride, organized by Soulforce, will kick off March 4, with participants arriving the next day at Valley Forge Christian College in Phoenixville. The bus tours, which began in 1999, allow LGBT and ally young adults to meet with students and administration at colleges and universities that have discriminatory policies toward LGBT students, with the aim of fostering conversations about the detriments of such rules and serve as a support system for the LGBT students.

This year’s ride will take the activists on a tour of 16 colleges throughout the nation.

The Equality Ride has only stopped at two other Pennsylvania schools in its history — Messiah College in Philadelphia and Eastern College in Saint David’s.

Jessica Kalup, a heterosexual ally and Philadelphia native, participated in the 2007 ride and said that, after deciding to return this year, she and another rider collaborated to get Valley Forge on the tour because of the school’s stringent anti-LGBT atmosphere.

Homosexuality is listed in the school’s student handbook under the header “Sexual Immorality,” alongside pornography, promiscuity, premartial sex, adultery, rape, sexual violence and abuse.

“The way it operates is that if someone is caught on their campus being LGBTQ, then their official policy is to expel the student,” Kalup said. “And if the student refuses to go to reparative therapy, which we know is neither reparative nor therapy, they’ll alert the student’s family, which of course results in a wildfire of negative things, including students I’ve heard about who wound up homeless as a result of this school’s policy.”

Kalup said Soulforce first made contact with the school’s president, Dr. Donald Myer, in September, and he responded via e-mail asking for the school to be removed from the tour. In January, Myer agreed to a phone conference with Kalup and Equality Ride director Caitlin MacIntyre, and Kalup said he was “adamant” that the riders not visit the school and said they would be treated as “unwelcomed guests” if they followed through with their plan.

Kalup said Myer did not respond to further e-mails and phone calls, but several days ago another school official contacted Soulforce to confirm the riders would be considered as trespassers.

“Something needs to be addressed whether they want it to be or not,” Kalup said. “At the end of the day, they still will have LGBTQ students on campus. Even if the school doesn’t welcome us there, we want to reach and connect to these students who are in an environment that makes them feel ashamed of who they are and show them that it is possible to feel good about yourself and to celebrate your identity.”

Kalup said it’s a “very real possibility” that the riders will be arrested at the school, a threat she said won’t deter the activists.

“We never choose to get arrested, the administration chooses to arrest us,” she said. “Our hope is always that when we cross the line onto campus, the administration will have a change of heart and recognize the value of our conversation.”

Soulforce does have a permit for the nearby Charlestown Park, at Coldstream and Township Line roads, where the LGBT and ally community is invited to come out and show support for the riders beginning at 10 a.m. March 5.

For more information about the 2010 Equality Ride, visit www.soulforce.org.

Jen Colletta can be reached at [email protected].