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|Soulforce Equality Ride burns through Georgia|
|by Ryan Watkins|
|March 15, 2012 21:53|
Soulforce, an organization dedicated to fighting anti-LGBT religious and political oppression, brought its Equality Ride to Georgia earlier this month, attending a protest, speaking at colleges and attending town halls during its four-day trek through the Peach State.
This year marks the second year that the Equality Ride passed through Georgia. It began in 2006 and has seen more than 100 riders participating in dialogue in more than 50 schools across the country.
For J. Mason, co-director of the Equality Ride, the highlight of the visit was a meeting with the president of Carver College, Robert Crummie. Mason, 27, identifies as transmasculine.
“We went to Carver College to see if we could chat with students, do a little protesting,” Mason says.
Carver, a historically black theological college in Atlanta, initially rejected Soulforce’s invitation to dialogue about the school’s policies regarding LGBT students, but Mason says that the group was able to speak with the school’s president off campus.
“The meeting was in some ways very hush-hush,” Mason says. “What we agreed was that the college would distribute materials on LGBTQ-friendly schools.”
The Riders’ first stop in Atlanta was March 5 to protest a rally held in support of presidential candidate and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum. The rally was organized by the Susan B. Anthony List and featured anti-gay speakers, including former Congressperson Marilyn Musgrave (R-Co.), the sponsor of the failed Federal Marriage Amendment.
“I think they knew going into it that there would be more people opposed to their viewpoints than supporting them,” Mason said.
The group stood in silence for most of the rally, but turned to walk back toward their bus, singing a hymn Mason calls “Love, Love.”
Georgia is one of a handful of states to not have hate crime protections for its LGBT residents. Thanks to a stalled HB 630 (Fair Employment Practices Act), state workers can be fired for their sexual orientation or perceived sexual orientation. There is quite a bit of work left before the Peach State can be called “friendly” for LGBT folks, but Mason believes the tide is turning.
“We never see it as an uphill battle.” Mason says of Georgia’s political climate. “It’s a work in progress. We seek to engage particularly religious schools that have anti-LGBTQ policies. We need to let students know there are people out there that love them and care about them.
“We do that for a few reasons. We believe these institutions are creating the religious leaders of tomorrow. We believe these same institutions are creating the political climate. We want to get those leaders, too, so that they know they can’t question our ability to live,” Mason adds.
The Equality Riders held several town hall events and potluck dinners with religious organizations in the state, including Muslims for Progressive Values and the Virginia Highland First MCC church.
“We got to do a lot of singing and praying,” Mason says.
The Soulforce Equality Riders visited Tennessee after leaving Georgia and will make their way to Chicago. From there, the group will visit Minneapolis, Oklahoma City, New Orleans, Dallas, Abilene, Denver, Salt Lake City, Portland and San Francisco.
Top photo: Members of Soulforce protest a rally held in support of presidential candidate Rick Santorum at the Georgia state capitol building. (by Ryan Watkins)
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