GISA celebrated the kick-off of Equality Ride in Lynchburg, VA Mar 16, 2006
You can't hate someone whose story you know.
Dare to know the story of those who are different.
“The tiniest story in your life can deeply touch another.You cannot know the effect your story might have.”--Sark
Does the spirit of the divine sometimes get so grand that you simply have to take a deep breath and exhale a big “THANK YOU?”That is how we feel about this past week. It was so full and life giving in various ways as we traveled from Raleigh, NC to Lynchburg, VA to Cincinnati, Ohio to Peoria, Illinois to Mason City, Iowa to Rochester, MN.We just arrived in Minneapolis, Minnesota, barely ahead of many inches of fresh snow!
Following is an interesting news tidbit that happened. This Constitution/Bible scenario provides a segue into our experiences this past week.
On Wednesday, March 1st, 2006, in Annapolis at a hearing on the proposed Constitutional Amendment to prohibit gay marriage, Jamie Raskin, professor of law at AU, was requested to testify.
At the end of his testimony, Republican Senator Nancy Jacobs said: "Mr. Raskin, my Bible says marriage is only between a man and a woman. What do you have to say about that?"
Raskin replied: "Senator, when you took your oath of office, you placed your hand on the Bible and swore to uphold the Constitution. You did not place your hand on the Constitution and swear to uphold the Bible."
The room erupted into applause.
We had the honor and privilege of being a part of history in the making, as we
Jake & Dotti
joined the Soulforce Equality Riders in Lynchburg, VA on Friday, March 10th for their first stop (LibertyUniversity) on their 51-day tour across America, visiting the campuses of religious and military colleges and universities, working to end religion-based oppression.The Equality Ride has been modeled after the Freedom Rides during the Civil Rights era, with the similarity being how religion-based oppression is exerted against a minority group.Also like the Freedom Rides of the 50’s and 60’s, the Equality Ride is a student-led effort that takes young adults into epicenter of intolerance and oppression to make a better tomorrow.In going on this journey, the Equality Riders draw inspiration from those Freedom riders over forty years ago. Jake Reitan and Haven Herrin, co-directors, are doing an outstanding job of leading these incredible youth.
We all met at First Christian Church in Lynchburg on Thursday night and Friday morning for prayer, encouragement, information, and training in non-violence. One of the first persons we saw Thursday night was our friend, Rev. Phil Lawson. Rev. Lawson is a retired United Methodist Minister from California. His brother, Jim Lawson, taught non-violent process for Dr. Martin Luther King during the Civil Rights Era. Phil learned non-violence from Bayard Ruskins and George Houser, the founders of CORE in 1950. Rev. Lawson stands with us at every Soulforce event, and whenever Dotti is fortunate enough to be there, he says to her, “Dotti, why are we here?” Dotti always replies, “Because none of us are free till all of us are free!
After the training Thursday night, we all went downstairs and enjoyed a Chinese
Rylee Joy, Roby, Robin & Dotti
dinner that Gary Nixon had put together. Why Chinese? Because that’s what the Freedom Riders ate the night before they embarked on their Freedom Ride! Rylee also got to come into church and enjoy the fellowship and fun! Rylee always loves going to church, and just can’t understand why dogs aren’t allowed in all churches! Robin, one of the Equality Riders, immediately was drawn to Rylee Joy, and then realized she had read about our journey. At the end, we presented rainbow wristbands to each of the Equality Riders, along with an extra one they could give away after having an authentic conversation with someone.
On Friday morning, the Equality Ride bus departed First Christian Church, headed for Liberty University, with about 15 cars following close behind. When we turned the corner to enter the Liberty Campus, we were met with dozens of police cars and reporters. When the bus came to a halt, the reporters clamored for the door, trying to get footage and comments even before the Equality Riders exited the bus. Eventually, the reporters backed away and the Riders came off the bus, but the reporting and filming didn’t stop there. Equality Riders stood with their banner, Learn From History...End Religion Based Oppression, wearing buttons bearing the same message.
Equality Riders outside Liberty University
In addition to film crews and reporters, there were about a dozen Liberty students who came out to engage in conversation with the Riders. Some of the students wanted to come out and “let the Equality Riders know that Jesus loves them and wants to heal their broken sexuality,” while others simply wanted to engage in friendly conversation and expressed their frustration and sadness that Liberty would not allow Soulforce on campus.
Angela, Melissa, Dotti, Roby & Cherish
Three of those students were Angela, Cherish and Melissa. These three girls noticed that Roby had a shirt on that said something about “Straight America,” as well as noticing Rylee’s rainbow collar and leash. Angela then approached Roby and said, “Excuse me, but I’m wondering what your shirt says.” Roby unzipped her black vest to reveal the entire message, “Gay Into Straight America – Two Women & A Poodle – 10% of us affects 100% of society.” As Roby and Angela struck up a conversation, along came Cherish, and then Melissa. All three women are students at Liberty, and all three disagree with the anti-gay policies of the University. Two of these three women have faced discrimination and oppression on campus because of rumors that they were lesbian.
As Roby spoke with the three girls, Dotti met and spoke with Joe Staubber, a Liberty student who had come out to seek out the media. He said that he didn’t agree with Rev. Jerry Falwell’s statement that the Equality Riders shouldn’t be let on campus because the administration's responsibility is to protect the students from people who their parents wouldn’t even allow in their homes. Joe said that he would welcome any of the Equality Riders in his home, and that his lesbian aunt is always welcome there. His friends, Brian and Mitch, came over and talked as well. The three felt that the Equality Riders should have been allowed on campus. Next, Dotti was approached by Sam and Cindy. They both wanted to debate Scripture, and Sam asked for someone’s Bible, proceeding to look for a Bible verse he wanted to share, before asking another student, “Where is that verse I am talking about?” Sheepishly, he admitted that he had only “come to Christ” a couple of years ago when he got off drugs, and that he was only a second year student. At the end, Sam said he wanted to stay in touch with Dotti, took a card and donned a rainbow wristband. As you can see, many were wearing their wristbands when they walked forward to enter the campus in order to dialogue with students, and were arrested.
During the course of our conversations, a police officer approached us and said, “If you are not a Liberty student, you need to leave the campus.” The gals then asked us to have lunch with them so we could continue our conversations. We had a wonderful time engaging with these three gals, and before we went our separate ways, they said, “We wish you two could come into one of our classes to speak.” We told them that if they could arrange it, we would be there.
We experienced our own bit of blatant discrimination that day when we tried driving our purple suburban onto the Liberty campus, in an attempt to simply park! As we drove up to the parking lot, a policeman stopped us and said, “You must turn around. You are not allowed on campus.” We said, “We are not on the Equality Ride, we simply want to watch and take some photos.” He proceeded to make a call on his radio, asking, “Are we allowing Gay Into Straight Americ.com on campus?” The voice on the other end said, “No!” Roby then looked into the officer’s eyes, and in a kind and friendly voice, said, “Sir, that’s discrimination at it’s best.” We then turned around and headed back down the parkway to park in the LaHaye Center (for Timothy & Beverly LaHaye) lot. No sooner did we put the rig in park, when another police officer approached us, and kindly asked us to move, stating Liberty is not allowing anyone associated with Soulforce on any campus property.
After the action at Liberty, everyone met at Mel & Gary’s for Gary’s famous pizza, debriefing, and relaxation. We slept in our Scotty out front of Mel & Gary’s beautiful home in Lynchburg. For anyone that doesn’t know, Mel White and Gary Nixon are the Co-founders of Soulforce, a grassroots organization to promote equality and to end religion based oppression against GLBT people. Mel used to be the ghostwriter for Billy Graham, Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, and when he came out as a gay man, they all rejected him. His book, “Stranger at the Gate – To Be Gay and Christian in America” is one that has touched (and saved) countless lives, including Roby’s. Mel just finished his next book, “Storming the Gate.” When it is released in September, we will have it available on our website for ordering.
It is interesting to look at what we, Gay Into Straight America, are experiencing versus what the Equality Riders are experiencing.
Remember us sharing that our experience has been that the majority of the people in our country are with us in agreeing that we should have legal protections and equality?You might be thinking, “Are you crazy?Look at what the Equality Ride is experiencing at each stop (an unwelcoming atmosphere from the administration on each campus, resulting in arrests at the first two stops, LibertyUniversity and RegentUniversity).”Here’s the difference.We are being open to whoever shows up to talk with us, as well as speaking with all types of groups and organizations.Although we have encountered individuals who definitely disagree with us, the overwhelming majority desire ending the polarization in our country as much as we do! The majority are interested in bridging the divide, rather than squelching the conversation, which is what the Equality Riders are encountering.The Equality Ride is going into the eye of the storm, confronting religion based oppression at the campuses of religious and military colleges and universities.They are opening up that door, facing the barking Chihuahuas.Though the barking and noise seems quite vicious (and it is ongoing), the MAJORITY of Americans do not feel this way.It does, however, have to be confronted, and it is great that the Equality Ride is doing this. In many ways, we continue to be held in fear by the “barking” of a minority of Americans.This committed barking, backed by strong financial resources, has a way of holding the majority hostage and in fear.Does that sound like history repeating itself?We can “Learn from History,” as the motto for the Equality Ride says, and we can chart a new course!
We awoke on Saturday morning, had coffee with our friends in Mel & Gary’s home, hitched up our Scotty, and hit the road headed for Cincinnati.The 8-hour drive was fairly uneventful, except for the monsoon-like rains which ended up soaking the Scotty floor.We’re not sure what’s going on (yet), but for some reason, spray from the road is splashing up into the Scotty, literally flooding the back half of the trailer when it rains!
When we recently stayed in Asheville with Pat and Jess, we failed to give the link about their bed and breakfast, Lover’s Loop. They wrote a couple of days after we left and shared that there were two full page ads in the Asheville newspaper, laced with homophobic language. One of the pages was all Bible verses, titled "What the Bible says about sodomy." It said, "God cannot be blamed for any sin that a person chooses to commit. Homosexuality and lesbianism is not by birth. According to the scriptures, it is strictly the choice of the individual."
On the other full page, the top third was an announcement for a rally in downtown Asheville the following Saturday at in support of Christian and conservative business and their right to operate according to family values, sanctity for marriage (between one man and one woman), wholesome work environment (without oppression from the sodomites & liberal media). Those who choose to live a deviant life style do not have the right to flaunt their sin in the face of business, church or the community and expect to be accepted. We that are listed below endorse the right of the management of Wolf Laurel Ski Slopes in their decision to maintain a clean family atmosphere at their resort. We also support any other businesses and also Churches and any individuals who are willing to do the same."
(Note: this was in response to complaints by two lesbians who were fired at Wolf Laurel Ski Slopes).
The above was followed by a list of individual's names, churches and a few businesses - over 1800!
First glance tells us how horrific such an ad is. When you look at the bigger picture, however, it is still another example of a "minority" attempting to manipulate and instill fear in the majority through their intimidation. The first thing Dotti asked Pat was, "How many people live in Asheville." Apparently, there are approximately 90,000. Dotti expressed to her that it is time to motivate the other 88,200 to stand up and speak out for equality and justice in their community, and to figure out ways to engage people within the community. The situation has inspired lots of conversation and letters to the editor. We wish we could share those with you, but by the time we got to click on the link, they were no longer there. Pat wrote back, and said "What a shame. I didn't think about the fact that they would be replaced.There must have been 40 letters and most were pro-gay." The up side of the loud, loud minority is that it can invigorate the majority in ways we have never witnessed. THAT is our opportunity!
Driving through West Virginia, receiving a “thumbs up” from a man and woman as they drove by. We made a note to include their reaction in this newsletter. But wait, it gets better! That night, we received an email from Bonnie Keller saying, “I am so glad my husband spotted your vehicle and slowed down to check out your sign – it brought a smile to both of our faces.” She visited our website, loved what we are doing, and then shared that she is the GSA (Gay/Straight Alliance) sponsor at the high school in Richmond, VA, and requested that we speak at her school. We checked out schedule to see about the possibility. After speaking in York, PAon March 27, we will head to Washington D.C. and meet with PFLAG national Safe Schools coordinator, Judy Hoff, and others on March 29th. Realizing that we have a couple of days available in our schedule before speaking in Philadelphia on April 2, we committed to leaving March 30th open in case our Liberty student friends get their professor to allow us to speak to their class. We then wrote Bonnie and suggested March 31st as a date to speak. Bonnie confirmed the date. Later, we received an email from Rev. Dr. Robin Gorsline of the MCC Church in Richmond, sharing that her church is now going to host the event, so that they can invite other GSA clubs in the area, as well as other organizations and groups. Click here for details on time and location for that event. Let friends in the area know about this!
Arriving in Cincinnati on Saturday evening, we spent a delightful evening with Mary & Teresa. If you recall, we met these two wonderful ladies in Key West when we were there in February. They surprised us by attending our Dayton PFLAG talk, and we surprised them on Friday with a call, saying, “We will be coming through Cincinnati as we head to Mason City, Iowa!” They had plans to attend a fundraiser at a beautiful local gay club on Saturday evening, and treated us to that event. Their Angel Whispers Cookies business is off to a great start. Don’t forget to get online and check them out at www.angelwhisperscookies.com
On Sunday, we proceeded to Peoria, Illinois. We encountered severe winds, and more monsoon-like rains. The Scotty flooded yet again, and in the wet and windy Wal-Mart parking lot in Peoria, Illinois, we settled down to try and get some sleep. It was the longest and most uncomfortable night we have ever experienced! Not only were the winds shaking the trailer back and forth, but the thunder was causing its own tremors. Roby didn’t know whether to stay in the trailer or run for shelter in the Wal-Mart, but she chose to stay. Rylee began shaking at one point, but it wasn’t until a huge crack of thunder caused Roby to scream, that Rylee must have thought to herself, “This must be really bad if Mama Rob is so scared!” Rylee then started to convulse and pant, her heart racing like a scared little bunny rabbit. She was having a panic attack. Dotti spent much of the night trying to calm Rylee and Roby! Dotti, the next day, said, “That was one of the worst storms I’ve been in, but I didn’t want to tell you that last night!” She also shared with Roby that at one point, when the wind stopped and it was very still outside, she feared a tornado, but she knew better than to share that fear with Roby, especially since there had been a tornado in Illinois earlier that day. When we woke up alive the next morning, Roby said, “If we never come back to Peoria, Illinois, it’ll be too soon! Let’s get out of here!” Of course, we are always open to changing our mind! (:
On Monday morning, we began driving from Peoria to Mason City, Iowa. We arrived at the home of Dean & Gary, the co-founders of PFLAG in Mason City. Dean Genth is the father of three grown children, and an expert on Hummel figurines and Swarovski Crystal, and kindly autographed one of his books and gave to us as a gift. Gary, also the father of three kids, is one of the leading Radiologists in Iowa(actually he’s probably one of the best in the USA) who specializes in breast cancer detection. These two talented and delightful men have been together for 4 years.
Dean & Gary took us out for a bite to eat before the PFLAG meeting. Susan & Darrell joined us. Susan & Darrel are allies that attend the Presbyterian Church there, and are very involved with PFLAG. They do not have any GLBT sons or daughters, they just know it is right to stand up for equality and justice for ALL people, and PFLAG is where they choose to do it. Darrel (an orthopedic surgeon) was so kind to have rigged a rope system to help hold the bikes in place on the back of the Scotty. Thanks, Dr. Darrel!
There were close to 50 people at the PFLAG meeting, thirteen of them attending for the first time! We were so encouraged by this thriving PFLAG chapter, and had the honor of meeting so many wonderful people. Thanks for your generous support to help keep this journey going! Several of them invited us to join them in Minneapolis on Saturday night for some fun in the city.
Mason City PFLAG
Matty, who we met at the meeting, emailed us after the meeting, saying, "I was first of all very impressed by the presentation that Dotti and Roby gave and thought that it spoke to many different people at our PFLAG meeting on many various levels. I specifically appreciated Dotti's use of the GLBT phrase by reversing it - referring to our community as Transgender, Bisexual, Lesbian, & Gay. I find that the transgender community is one that is oftentimes overlooked, because of our lack of understanding of transgenders, much like the rest of society. I appreciated Dotti's emphasis on the need to embrace this community as a whole, with transgenders leading the way for us. I have a close friend who has a father who is transgendered and I know that it took her a long time to really understand and accept her father as a part of her life and even as a human being. Because of my exposure to my friend and her father, I've gained a definitive understanding of my own and have learned a lot about the transgender community and love them so much. So thank you, Dotti, for recognizing this very important part of our community, and thank you to both Dotti and Roby for the absolutely inspirational talk that they had with our PFLAG chapter."
Julie Birkedal, a reporter for the Global Gazette, was in attendance at Monday’s meeting, and wrote an excellent article about our visit to
On Tuesday morning, we got up and went to Cabin Coffee Co., for some caffeine and to check emails. While sitting there working, a lovely lady named Becky walked up and said, “How was the meeting last night? I read the article about you in this morning’s paper.” Becky works with Families First – a child abuse prevention and advocacy program in Mason City, and calls herself an ally for GLBT people “because it’s the right thing to do.”
While Gary was busy reading MRI’s and CT Scans at the hospital, Dean took us out to the lake for lunch before we hit the road on Tuesday afternoon. A group of ladies who participate in a book club sat at a table next to us. One looked up and said, “We saw you in the paper this morning! We hope you are feeling a warm welcome in Mason City!” Another chimed in, saying, “I thought I recognized you. It’s your smile.” When we were leaving, one of the owners of the shop said, “Did you know you were in the paper this morning?” We're not sure if several people just recognized us from the paper, and wanted to extend kindness, or if it was just an Iowa thing, but we were delighted to have people on the street and at gas stations greet us with a friendly smile and a “hello… how are you?”
Tuesday afternoon we drove to Rochester to stay with Dorothy & Roy Satre, the parents of our friend, Sarah Satre, in Bellingham. Roy is a retired Lutheran Minister. Dorothy & Roy, who are active in PFLAG, sent emails out to all their contacts and arranged an informal gathering at Godfather’s pizza for Tuesday night. There were about 20 people who came to talk with us and listen as we shared stories of our Gay Into Straight America journey and mission. We enjoyed great conversation with these delightful people, and were pleasantly surprised at the close of the evening, when people started handing us $5, $10 and $20 dollar bills to support us on our journey. Thanks to all of you who came to visit with us, and thank you for your generous support!
Speaking of ministers, we received an interesting email from Phyllis Windes. She said, “Today I happened on to your website and was overjoyed to begin reading. I am a straight, married woman, 63-years old. I am an Elder in the Community of Christ.From 1992 to 1999 I was the pastor of a gay-friendly congregation in Kansas City. Though many in our church still struggle with the issue, there has been much positive movement.I am excited to have registered to receive your newsletter and look forward to reading each one. One ‘shortcoming’ I have is that I have no experience with transgender persons – that I know of. I hope to gain knowledge through your site to help me with this deficit.” Dotti wrote back to her, sending an attachment of how she has approached various churches about the lack of inclusion regarding transgender persons. After receiving that, Phyllis wrote back, “Thank you so much!!! Dotti, I can’t tell you how much your attachment was a help to me. As I told you before, I have NO experience at all with transgender persons, and have felt a very palpable lack in my ability to respond to and assist others in appropriately responding to the issue. While in my heart I have always believed I would be open and accepting, I did not know how to proceed. I had not run across in the past anything that I found helpful. Your letter helped me see more clearly what is needed.” She then requested permission to send what Dotti has written to some people in administration in the World Church Community of Christ. Of course, Dotti gave her the go ahead. From the very beginning of our journey, we created a clear intention and commitment to educating about the wonderful transgender community. Click here to read what Dotti shares with churches about inclusion of transgender persons in our churches, and why their presence is a gift that we do not want to miss.
Due to the fact that our heater in the Scotty is broken, and that dogs are not allowed in Roy & Dorothy’s new condo (per the condo rules), we spent the night with Tom Overlie and Kevin Larson in Rochester. Dorothy & Roy drove over to Tom & Kevin’s and we followed. After Tom got home, we all sat around the living room, sharing both wine and stories, while eating Kevin’s homemade BBQ beef on rolls.
(L-R) Back Row: Tom, Roy & Kevin (L-R) Front Row: Rylee Joy, Roby, Dotti, and Dorothy
Tom Overlie is a graduate of Dordt College in Souix Center, Iowa. Roby is quite familiar with Dordt, having friends from Lynden, WA who attended there. It was interesting to talk with Tom about his experience of being a gay student at a Christian College. Roby and Tom talked about the struggles they both faced. Roby attended Torchbearer Bible School in Sweden and England.
Tom is a news anchor on KTTC(NBC) in Mason City, as well as an incredible singer/songwriter. Kevin is a designer, specializing in home design and décor. Together, they have purchased and renovated 18 homes in the 11 years they have been together! Not only do they do the construction, inside and out, but Kevin also designs and sews all of the draperies, pillow, sofa and chair coverings!
On Wednesday morning, we had breakfast with Tom & Kevin and Dotti talked Tom into playing and singing one of his songs before we left. He sat down at the piano and played/sang a beautiful piece he wrote for Kevin called, “Valentine.”
After breakfast, we went back over to Dorothy & Roy’s. Dorothy took us on a tour of The Mayo Clinic, which is an immense network of buildings connected by subway and skyway paths. You can literally walk throughout downtown Rochester, visiting malls, restaurants, hotels and the doctor without even going outside, which is really nice when it’s 20 degrees out!
Before we left Dorothy & Roy’s we enjoyed a delicious soup lunch Dorothy had prepared. During lunch, the phone rang, and it was the church Secretary from the Presbyterian Church across the street, where we had our rig parked. Dorothy and Roy had asked permission for us to park there, and permission was granted. However, on this particular day, the Secretary called to ask how much longer we would be there, because there had been some inquiries.
Not wanting to make any assumptions and jump to conclusions, we went over to the church office before we left, thanking them for allowing us to park in the lot overnight. Deb, an administrative person in the church office, asked, “What does Gay Into Straight America mean?” We proceeded to tell her, and she said, “So you’re not trying to change gay people into becoming straight?” She was relieved when we told her that we are married and we are simply trying to bridge the polarization in our country by engaging hearts & minds, creating authentic connections, and in that process, dissolving some of the differences that separate us.
We also had a nice conversation with Diane, who grew up in Rochester, and attends the church. Diane, a lesbian, is grateful that First Presbyterian Church is a welcoming place where she can worship and enjoy community without having to pretend she’s someone else. Deb and Diane donned rainbow wristbands and wished us continued blessings on our journey.
Diane followed us out through the foyer, and we enjoyed a few more minutes of hearing more about her personal story, before we hugged and said goodbye. Diane said, “Thank you for coming over here and talking with us… you just made my day.” We then walked out and climbed into our rig, and with warm hearts we drove away.
We arrived in Chaska, MN on Wednesday evening at the home of Bill and Deb LeMay, two wonderful PFLAG Parents. They have a lesbian daughter, named Heidi, and a heterosexual son named Andy, who recently got married. Bill and Deb are doing amazing work in their community. Bill stands up and speaks out about having a lesbian daughter to his construction crew, and Deb works tirelessly to bring about awareness and education in her work at the Catholic School, and in their Catholic Church. We already know that our time in Minneapolis, where we will also stay with Phil and Randi Reitan, parents of Jake Reitan (one of the co-directors of the Equality Ride) is going to be extraordinary!