Friday, March 30, 2007

Soulforce - Touched by Angels.

3 are arrested at gay-rights group's event

By Bill Estep

Click here to view images of the Soulforce reception.

WILLIAMSBURG --Police arrested three people yesterday when a gay-rights group tried to talk to students at the University of the Cumberlands, which found itself embroiled in controversy last year after expelling a gay student.

About 25 people taking part in the Soulforce Equality Ride had stopped at the school. Soulforce is visiting 32 colleges and universities to draw attention to policies the group says discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, and to promote hope and reconciliation, members said.

Members have been arrested at other stops, including earlier this week in Louisville.

"Throughout our stops in the South we have encountered a lot of hostility," said Matt Comer of Greensboro, N.C., an organizer of Soulforce.

Comer said that when the bus got to the school about 10 a.m., Michael Colegrove, the school's vice president for student services, told the riders they would be trespassing if they came on campus.

Dozens of police officers were on hand. Comer said police told the activists that they could not stand on a public sidewalk beside the campus, but rather would have to keep walking or face arrest.

Williamsburg Police Chief Denny Shelley said police charged Soulforce member Jacob Reitan with trespassing and failure to disperse. Two Cumberlands students were charged with failure to disperse.

Comer said it seemed the university and police tried to keep the Soulforce riders from talking to students.

"It sounds ridiculous to even say" someone could be charged for standing on a public sidewalk, Comer said. "The police know what they're doing is wrong."

Colegrove said the university also tried to cooperate with the group and offered members a spot on campus for their visit. However, the group wanted free run of the campus, which wasn't possible because of the potential disruption, and rejected the university's offer, he said.

Comer, however, said Soulforce did not reject the university's offer. A university official quickly withdrew the offer because of a miscommunication and later refused to agree to terms in writing, he said.

The group talked to students for about three hours.

Later yesterday, Soulforce members held a rally on the steps of the Whitley County courthouse. About 40 people listened and about 10 protesters stood on the courthouse lawn holding signs with Bible verses on them.

Many conservative Christians believe the Bible condemns homosexuality. Soulforce members, however, say that belief is hurtful and wrong; several said they consider themselves Christians.

Emily Harlow, a freshman at the University of the Cumberlands, said she came to the rally to hear what group members had to say.

"It's time Cumberland realized it's OK to be gay and be a Christian."

There had been concern on campus that students could face trouble for talking to Soulforce members or attending the rally.

Colegrove, however, said that wasn't the case. Students have First Amendment rights too, he said.

Still, Jordan Palmer, president of the Kentucky Equality Federation, which helped pay for the Soulforce visit to Williamsburg, gave students cards and said to call him if they encountered a problem as a result of coming to the rally.

Kyle DeVries, a Soulforce spokesman, identified the two Cumberlands students who were arrested as Warry Woodward and Annie Decrescente.

Last year, the university expelled Jason Johnson of Lexington, who had disclosed on a Web site that he is gay.

The university's policy said any student who engages in or promotes sexual behavior not consistent with Christian principles, including homosexuality or sex outside marriage, could be suspended or asked to leave school.

University President Jim Taylor said at the time the policy was in line with traditional denominational beliefs.

Johnson returned to Williamsburg yesterday to be with the protesters and thanked students at his former school. "Bless you," he told the students. "You have more courage than you know." Johnson is now a student at Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond.

Click here to view images of the Soulforce reception.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

KY's largest Methodist Church bars gays from membership.

Click here for the complete story from Bible Belt Blogger.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Federation wins Social Justice Impact Award, $10,000.00 and promotional support from MySpace.

Kentucky Equality Federation, a finalist for a MySpace Impact Award in the category of Social Justice has won. The Federation will be awarded a $10,000.00 cash prize from MySpace.

Liba Wenig Rubenstein, MySpace Public Affairs Coordinator stated: “For your important work to preserve and defend the rights of LGBT Kentuckians and promote equality for all, and for your dynamic and effective use of the MySpace platform to engage users in your cause, MySpace is pleased to announce that you have been voted the winner of a MySpace Impact Award, in the category of Social Justice.”

MySpace launched its own MySpace Impact Awards to honor organizations and individuals "making a difference in the world" via MySpace. The Impact Awards are broken into six categories: Community Building, Health and Safety, Social Justice, Poverty Relief, Environmentalism, and International Development. In addition to a $10,000.00 cash prize, winners also get promotional support from MySpace.

"Thousands upon thousands of our members are using MySpace as a platform to make a positive impact," said Chris DeWolfe, MySpace CEO and co-founder. "The Impact Awards are our way of thanking them and honoring them for leveraging the power of MySpace to do good.”

Nancy Couch, Treasurer and Secretary for Kentucky Equality Federation stated the organization was honored to have even been nominated as a finalist.

In a statement released to MySpace after winning the Social Justice Award, Kentucky Equality Federation President Jordan Palmer stated: “Kentucky Equality Federation largely focuses on the Gay Civil Rights Movement because to this day they are denied access to social and civil rights enjoyed by the majority. Specifically targeting and exempting a specific group of people from constitutional freedoms enjoyed by the majority is an attack on the very foundation that makes this nation great: tolerance, social acceptance, and diversity. From the Black Civil Rights Movement to the Women's Liberation Movement every generation seems unjustly burdened by our governments to fight for what our Founding Fathers wanted them to have, liberty and justice for all. Using the MySpace platform to educate the public, communicate with followers, and increase awareness of our organization has made Kentucky Equality Federation successful. We would not have been able to reach the massive number of people and organizations we have without MySpace.”

Kentucky Equality Federation solutes MySpace for creating a social networking website where people and organizations can network, share ideas, and engage in worthy causes.

“There are a lot of really good people and organizations on MySpace,” stated Palmer. “We encourage other organizations to reach out to the individuals and organizations on MySpace; utilizing the worlds largest social networking website is a fast and easy way to rally others to your cause.”