Six arrested on Florida University campus in gay rights protest

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Members of a gay rights “Equality Ride” protest were arrested yesterday as they attempted to enter a university campus chapel.

Six members of LGBT equality group Soulforce Q, were arrested on trespassing charges at Palm Beach Atlantic University (PBAU).

PBAU does not exclude gay students from its 3,200 population, but does ban “homosexual behaviour” amongst its members.

Soulforce’s visit to PBAU was part of the “Equality Ride”; a trip across the US made by 50 young people visiting 32 American faith-based colleges that hold policies that exclude or silence LGBT students.

On reaching PBAU, Soulforce members were not allowed by PBAU officials to enter the campus.

They spent the morning on the pavement outside the campus, discussing the Bible and LGBT issues with passing students and parents.

When six members of the Soulforce group attempted to enter the university chapel at the beginning of a service, they were stopped by Terry Wheeler, director of campus security, and Lieutenant Mike Roggin of the West Palm Beach Police Department.

Mr Wheeler informed the Soulforce members that they were “unwanted” and that the police would enforce trespassing law.

Six Soulforce members were then arrested and taken to the county jail.

The arrested members were Jarrett Lucas, 22; Danielle Cooper, 19; Lauren Parke, 25; Zakiya Tanner, 24; Nicholas R. DeFinis, 22; and Zakariah Rittenhouse, 21.

Speaking about the purpose of the Equality Ride, Haven Herrin, co-director of Soulfoce Q, said:

“We come in pursuit of greater understanding.

“Our goal is to foster a conversation about LGBT people and faith.

“While such conversations are often marked by politics and divisiveness, we bring open minds and hearts to academic settings, where we hope for a genuine exchange of ideas.”

More than 200 American colleges and universities have explicit policies that discriminate against LGBT students.

In 2006, the inaugural Equality Ride travelled to 19 of those schools and held vigils, Bible studies, class discussions and community forums.

Herrin sees the diversity of this year’s cohort as another indicator of the project’s growth:

“We come from a variety of experiences, a variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds.

“There are five straight allies on this year’s ride. There are four riders who identify as transgender. There are Buddhists, Jews, Catholics and evangelical Christians.

“We’re all here to have a conversation with America’s next conservative religious generation about our personal lives and our personal relationships to the scriptures that the schools use to condemn us.”

Eight of the 2007 riders are current or former students from schools on the 2006 ride.

Brigham Young University junior Matt Kulisch, a member of the Latter Day Saints and one of the students who participated in the action, cited his faith as part of his motivation for being arrested with the Equality Riders.

“My church has always taught me the principle of standing for something true.

“My integrity demanded that this message of God’s love for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people be told in its entirety.”