Soulforce Visits BYU Campus

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    By Heather Palmer

    While some students were avoiding Brigham Square, others welcomed the Soulforce Equality Riders with dialogue Monday afternoon and took their presence in stride.

    “I think the protest is good in the sense that it makes BYU an open campus,” said Justin Neumann, a senior studying political science from McLean, Va. “We are being faced with a reality we”ll see outside of the BYU bubble, but it doesn”t mean we have to accept it.”

    The Soulforce Equality Riders, a group of 33 young adults who are on a seven-week bus tour to confront colleges throughout the nation, have held vigils, Bible studies, class discussions, community forums, and press conferences. The group is seeking to stop universities that ban the enrollment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students. The tour has made 11 stops to colleges and is planning to visit seven others.

    “The reaction here at BYU has been pretty good, we”ve had some that have been starkly against us, and some that are accepting and responsive,” said Carl Millender, an equality rider from Buffalo, N.Y.

    The activist group has chosen Dr. Martin Luther King as an exemplar in their non-violence tactic to address gay and lesbian issues. Officials said they feel that the Honor Code at BYU discriminates against gay and lesbians who possibly suffer silently under the code”s agreement.

    The BYU Honor Code states: “Advocacy of a homosexual lifestyle or any behaviors that indicate homosexual conduct, including those not sexual in nature, are inappropriate and violate the Honor Code. Violations of the Honor Code may result in actions up to and including separation from the University.”

    Creating a buzz on campus appeared to be the main motive of the Soulforce, as the group decided to push the envelope when the group failed to obey the restrictions placed on them by BYU officials.

    In a fairly scripted event, with security personnel and Soulforce Equality Riders, five activists were given citations and taken away for addressing a crowd while on the steps of Brigham Square. Activists were salted throughout the crowd and started applauding those given citations to cheer on and advocate for their cause.

    BYU security knew Soulforce Equality Riders were going to use BYU campus as a public forum and Soulforce Equality Riders knew that BYU security had been tipped, yet they still used Brigham Square as a stage to address their issues to BYU students.

    BYU spokeswoman, Carri Jenkins said that citations were issued to five people for trespassing in Brigham Square. BYU officials told group leaders that they could not use BYU campus as a public forum, which would include addressing a group of people in a public setting, using a megaphone or distributing literature.

    “There is a distinct possibility that those that were given citations on Monday, if they returned to campus, would be given citations again,” Jenkins said.

    The Soulforce Equality Riders have been arrested at a number of campuses on their national college tour for the motive of attention to their cause.

    “We want to get arrested,” said Robyn Murphy, Soulforce”s national media director and an excommunicated Latter-day Saint. “Our whole purpose is to bring attention to this dialogue about gay and lesbians. By standing up and speaking, we are ultimately making a buzz. If it gets them talking that”s what we”re aiming for.”

    BYU students and the Soulforce riders were talking, yet both were mutually respectable for the most part in the open dialogue discussions. Whether one side or the other was swayed on gay or anti-gay issues can”t be determined, but the moral fiber both groups appeared to have was passionately shown through non-violent discussion.

    “It”s great that they are here because it gives BYU students a chance to show everyone that we are open-minded and can be classy about an issue we don”t agree with,” said Austin Baird a senior studying political science from Amarillo, Texas.

    There were also passers-by and opinionated students that didn”t feel like the Soulforce Equality Riders would do much change at BYU.

    “This activist group will change the church as much as sitting in a chalk circle will change BYUSA,” said Jacob Call, of Idaho Falls, Idaho.

    The almost peaceful protest Monday was continued with a rally at Kiwanis Park at 5 p.m. with current and former BYU student speakers.

    The group plans to come back to campus today while holding lilies and marching from Bulldog Boulevard to campus. They plan to finish their march in Brigham Square at noon. The group plans to lie down and place their lilies on their chest to represent gay or lesbians Latter-day Saints that have committed suicide.

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