I love it when the Universe brings opportunities to my front door. Today, it was the Soulforce Equality Riders.
I stepped out of my office at Mills College where I counsel students a few hours a week and there was the Equality Ride Bus parked alongside the street. I walked over to the bus and chatted with Dondy, a wonderful straight ally who has been driving the bus for the past 2 months. Dondy said he also drove for the Equality Rides in 2006, 2008, and 2010.
The current tour presently consists of 17 young people traveling across the country who address political and spiritual oppression of LGBTQ people. Their mission is to meet with students and faculty at "the hundreds of schools in the United States that openly discriminate against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer individuals and their Allies (LGBTQA) through their policies and practices."
The aim of the Equality Ride is to get people into dialogue and to end "expulsion" of LGBTQ students and faculty, as well as, "ex-gay" or "reparative" therapy programs. Each rider is trained in non-violent techniques to assist in this dialogue.
The Equality Ride comes to an end today in Oakland, so I feel quite fortunate that I had the chance to talk with Dondy. He shared with me that he has seen a lot on the road. Since he is the only visible person on the bus, he told me that people have driven by smiling and giving him the thumbs up and he has also been flipped off and mooned.
In one city in Ohio, an older woman yelled at him "You got AIDS yet?" He said, "Ma'am, am I bothering you?" She said "Yes." He told her that he would pray for her hoping she would open her heart to understand that LGBTQ people are people too.
He said, "I've seen how some schools they visit people will open up their doors, feed them and be very kind to them, and then tell them they don't accept them." One of the toughest moments for Dondy was when one of the riders was sharing his coming out experience and was overwhelmed with emotion.
Dondy has learned so much about the hardships LGBTQ youth face and he feels like a father figure to them. Tears rolled down his face as he told me about the bonds he's made and how these rides have transformed him.
I had the chance to step on the bus and it brought back memories of the Marriage Equality Caravan of 2004, where we went to 13 cities in 7 days. I can't imagine what it would be like to be on the road for 2 months opening your heart daily to people who believe you are sick and a sinner, and yet that is what ultimately makes a difference - staying open hearted and engaged in respectful dialogue.
I applaud these young people's dedication to answer this calling for equality. I looked around at the windows on the bus, some of them had taped up postcards of civil rights leaders, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, etc. Other posted inspirational quotes.
Dondy reminded me of Ron, the bus driver for the Marriage Equality Caravan. Both were African American, straight men who openly shared their experiences of racism with the riders, and saw the connection of our shared humanity and the shared pain of oppression and discrimination.
I remember Ron sharing with us how he had been forced to drive a bus for a gathering of the KKK and the courage it must have taken him to keep his composure in the face of that kind of discrimination. I affirm with Dondy that all people need to be treated equally and respectfully. I applaud Dondy.