Six members of Soulforce, an LGBT student's rights and education group, were arrested at Palm Beach Atlantic University on Monday morning. Soulforce tours Christian schools opening a dialogue about LGBT issues. The students were charged with trespassing, a second-degree misdemeanor that carries a $250 fine, when they tried to enter a chapel service at the private school.
Soulforce requested a meeting with students at PBAU, which was at first denied. The school then said they could meet in a "private setting" on campus, which the group rejected since they wanted to reach a larger audience. PBAU, a private Christian University, does allow gay students to attend, but prohibits "homosexual activity" in the code of student conduct since it is considered a "sin."
The arrests mark the first for this year's Soulforce Tour- Jarrett Lucas, 22; Enzi Tanner, 24; Nicholas Rocco Definis, 22; Lauren Parke, 25; Zak Brittenhouse, 21; and Danielle Cooper, 19 were all arrested. Soulforce members also said their tour bus was vandalized Sunday night in the parking lot of the Boynton Beach hotel they were staying in
The need and hunger for a dialogue between Soulforce and the students of PBAU was summed up by Becky Goodlet, a 21-year-old PBAU student, who said she was glad Soulforce visited campus:
There are a lot of people who have been sheltered their whole life, and this is good for them to see. I don't know a whole lot about it either, and that's why I want to speak with them.
Here's the Soulforce Press Release:
The Equality Riders were immediately restricted to the far side of the sidewalk and were greeted by an organized group of parents. During the conversations that ensued, a few students did join the group and one came out as a lesbian who is in her first year at PBAU. She was able to speak firsthand about the lack of safety that is provided for her as a lesbian on campus, which affirms Soulforce Q's reasons for visiting the Christian school.
At 11:00 am EST, the sixteen Equality Riders walked to the DeSantis Family Chapel doors and were confronted by city police at the doors. School officials read a statement that barred the young adults from participating in the worship service with the students with whom they had been talking. A similar statement followed from the West Palm Beach Police Department. Inspired by the conversations that they had with students during a picnic hosted by the Equality Ride on Sunday, the Riders moved forward with good faith that they would be allowed into Chapel.
As ten of the Riders were turned away, six remained and were arrested, one by one. Those arrested were Jarrett Lucas, 22, from Philadelphia, Danielle Cooper, 19, from Maplewood, NJ, Lauren Parke, 25, from Seattle, Enzi Tanner, 24, from Minneapolis, Nicholas Rocco DeFinis, 22, from Lansdale, PA, and Zak Rittenhouse, 21, from Frankfort, OH. Students looked on as the young adults were placed in handcuffs and moved into a police van.
The remaining Equality Riders are still standing vigil and speaking with students on the corner of S. Olive Avenue and Okeechobee Road. They will remain there until 4:00 pm EST. The arrested young adults are scheduled to go before a magistrate Tuesday morning.
Today's visit to PBAU comes after a night of harassment for participants of the Equality Ride. Sunday evening, the glass door of the bus was bashed in with a hard object. Two panes of glass were shattered and small portions of the vinyl wrap were scratched off. A police report of the incident was filed.
It seems odd that an institution for learning seeks to shelter and block their students from being exposed to different viewpoints. One must wonder why the school was so scared of the respectful dialogue that Soulforce engages in and that their own students were obviously interested in as well.
This type of peaceful protest and activism is refreshing from our younger generation. I applaud these brave, young students who were arrested and who forced a dialogue on the campus of PBAU- even if they weren't allowed on the school grounds.