PHILADELPHIA, PA — Today, Soulfource — a non-profit organization committed to the freedom of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people from political and spiritual oppression — announced this year's 2012 Equality Riders, a team of 17 young advocates who will embark on a two-month cross-county, social justice bus tour next month. The 17 young "Riders" will kick off their tour on March 4th in Philadelphia, PA and end the two-month long ride in San Francisco, CA with a debriefing session set to take place from April 30th until May 2nd.
Jason Conner, 27, and J. Mason, 27, will lead the "Riders" as co-directors during the organization's fifth tour. Since its inception, Soulforce's Equality Ride has visited over 70 fundamentalist, anti-LGBTQ colleges and universities in order to confront the institution's policies and practices that are designed to oppress and marginalize LGBTQ students and faculty.
Joining Conner and Mason on the 2012 Equality Ride are:
Crystal Cheatham, Ovid Amorson, Ibrahim Vicks and Christian Parks from Philadelphia, Pa.;
J.D. Melendez, Andy Cofina and Meisha Hospedales from New York City;
Ryan Barnette from Cincinnati, Ohio;
Chelsea Fullerton from Athens, Ga.;
Eric Karabetsos from Pittsburgh, Pa.;
Bethany Meier from Ann Arbor, Mich.,
Robert Moore from Salt Lake City, Utah;
Lauren Cole Parke from Harrisonburg, Va.;
Zachary Pullin from Spokane, Wash.; and
Matt Steele from Portland, Ore.
"The 2010 Equality Ride literally saved my life," said Conner, who came out to his family and friends after he was chosen to serve as a "Rider" in 2010. "This year's tour will allow us to reach some of the most isolated and downtrodden people, and we will affirm them as perfect, whole and loved individuals."
"Religion can give us a sense of purpose and good moral character, but it can also be used as a weapon. Sadly, it has been used to oppress multiple groups of people throughout history. I do believe that there is reconciliation to be had between the LGBTQ community and religious folks from all backgrounds. These two communities are not mutually exclusive of each other, contrary to popular belief."
Conner's counterpart, Mason, said, "I believe the young leaders we will meet on this journey have the potential to be at the forefront of the intersection of religion and politics of our country. I have always found myself very compelled to work with communities of faith as an openly LGBTQ person. This particular role as co-director allows me to use my passion for reaching others in a broader sense than I had ever previously imagined."
Over the past month, the Equality Riders trained in nonviolent resistance and community service in preparation of the tour ahead. Soulforce will announce more details on the 2012 Equality Ride in the coming weeks leading up to the launch on March 4, 2012 in Philadelphia, PA.
Soulforce's purpose is freedom for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people from religious and political oppression through the practice of relentless nonviolent resistance. For more information, go to www.equalityride.com or www.soulforce.org . "Like" Soulforce on Facebook at: www.facebook.com/SoulforceOrganization, or follow the organization on Twitter at @soulforceorg.