A Brief Introduction

Endeavoring to define myself outside of a "job title." I'm a nomad of sorts who fell in love with technology, activism, and helping others. I run a web & media consulting firm, have a blog specifically for activists & non-profits, and travel often. I love talking about theology, politics, and social change. I love doing something about it even more. I also like to be a well-rounded and fully present person. That's why I write here. Connect with me on twitter

Monday, April 23, 2007

Small Town Sunday

A dog met us at the front door of the MOTEL we were staying at (no other name on the building was visible). The parking lot was dusty gravel and a Bud Light truck was the only other vehicle with us. Jonathan passed out the room keys. This time they were brass keys, not the plastic keycards we've been used to. I found an ashtray in my bathroom.

This is Ellendale, North Dakota, population 1500. We'd driven close to 12 hours through the night to get here. I would later talk to Haven about the trip and we decided it was the most surreal experience of our lives. Twenty-five young adults, who've known each other so briefly, but love each other so intensely. Held together by the singularly passion for the love of what is not now, but might be one day. This nebulous idea of social justice that we've each experienced in our own small ways that somehow seems totally existent as we drive together through the Badlands, under the stars, with nothing but the headlights. How did I get to a place where I would be asleep in a truck stop, next to a cow truck, with so many other people who have given up everything for two months. What we want exists only in our heads ... but there it is so real. I don't think I'll ever be the same.

Shortly after arriving in Ellendale, we congregate for dinner and a meeting, which takes a somber turn after the head of the Emergency Response Unit stops by. He will be blocking the road that runs into the school and the road that runs in front of the school (where we will be standing) to squash a threat from locals that they were planning to "run us off with combines." During our dinnertime meeting, three of our riders were jeered at. The police want our bus to stay next to us during the day we're outside of Trinity Bible College so that we can evacuate quickly if necessary.

Our bus attracts attention everywhere we go. Here, there is not a single person that doesn't know we've arrived. In fact, the ERU chief estimated there were approximately 100 more people in town the night before. His only guess was that they came because we were here. When some Trinity Students stopped by the hotel to talk with Justin, they told him their parents were coming into town for the day.

After weeks of schools that allowed us on to have dialogue, even as they had discriminatory policies in place, I had almost forgotten that such intense oppression existed. What happens to kids who grow up in this town when they begin to realize they might be LGBT? What happens to the families when children move away so that they can be themselves? What is the reaction when they return? I don't know.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

East Bus Update

As I've been making my way across the country on the Westbound bus of the 2007 Equality Ride, 25 of my amazing peers have been criss-crossing the eastern half of the USA. I haven't posted many updates about them myself but hopefully you've found the links to their blogs on the sidebar or have been reading the official Equality Ride blog.

As I was searching for the Washington Post video from Patrick Henry, I also found a video from the Eastbound bus stop at Bob Jones University (created by someone outside of Soulforce). I have posted the video below.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Voluntary Redemptive Suffering

The president of Yellowstone Baptist College has been refusing to allow dialogue on campus. Despite numerous requests from stop organizer Emil Pohlig to come to some sort of agreement, he was steadfast in his stance: we were not welcome.

This is not something new, we are too familiar with rejection. It is especially painful when such rejection comes from Christians--those who follow Christ, the one who spread His arms so wide open the political and religious authorities had him executed. Today was no different. With winds blowing at 20mph, rain pouring from the cloudy sky, and mud spraying up from cars driving by, we walked from our bus to the entrance of the college.

"Welcome to Montana, I guess this is just what you're up against," the president said as he greeted us at the front gates. Emil asked him to reconsider: we would really appreciate some time on campus to talk with him and students. He refused. Jillian asked if he we could simply join with them in worship, to get out of the cold and the rain. He again refused. "I wish the weather was better for you, but you cannot come in."

I was floored. I tried to imagine standing on the sidewalk with Jesus. Cold, windworn, soaking wet, tired, rejected. What would he have to say to me? "No you cannot rest." "No you cannot worship." "No I will not shelter you." "No I will not feed you." Somehow I doubt it. I imagine Jesus standing there, "Come in my child, for you are tired and cold. Come in and find rest in me. Come in and talk with me. Come in and share your life with me." As the president turned his back and walked away, I was distraught at the sad state of affairs.

For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me. ... I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.
Matt 25:42-43, 45
We stayed outside the college for six hours today, holding lilies of peace and Bible verses which we were drawn to. I tried for the life of me to remember a particular verse from Mr. McKinnon's sixth grade Sunday school class and I could remember most of the memory verses except for the one I wanted. I eventually settled on Romans 13:10 "[And whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule; 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'] Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. Every Christian can probably quote verses about loving your neighbor, but I find this verse particularly helpful because it outlines a specific character of love: that it does no harm to its neighbor.

When I woke up this morning, I finally remembered the verse I'd been thinking of:

1 Timothy 4:12 "Do not let anyone look down on you because you are young; but set an example for believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith, and in purity."

It was a long day, it was a cold day. But I and the other riders set an example for believers. In speech, in life, in love, in faith, and in purity. And thus, it was a good day.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Rude Awakenings

We awoke this morning to find the side of our bus smathered in paintballs.

I sit on the bus now as the police clean our bus. It has been a pleasure working with the chief of police; his support warms me on this rainy morning.

"I wish you safe journey and I'm glad you stopped in Rexburg"

And now we drive to Billings.

Sent from Treo

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Playing in the park

I just returned from our community picnic in Porter Park, Rexburg, ID. The turnout was very encouraging. There were students, community members young and old, and even some families. I was able to speak with a few students and had the joy of listening to a straight freshman talk about how he tries to be supportive to his gay friends, both LDS and non-LDS. A positive effect I have noticed first hand is that Equality Ride helps to pull the supporters out of the woodwork. They are able to realize they aren't the only ones who hold differing opinions. And when they find us, it enables us to put students in contact with them!

If there are any students at schools on the Equality Ride route or in nearby communities, I'd be happy to put you in contact with supportive peers and parents in the area

Conversations in the Latter Days: Our time at Brigham Young University Idaho

BYU-Idaho, like BYU in Provo, refused to let us on to campus. We were still able to have a highly successful day in Rexburg nonetheless. There is a public road that goes into campus which we were able to be on. We stood in vigil outside of the campus, holding pictures of our families--a fundamental part of the LDS faith, yet something that is being torn apart by school policy and church doctrine regarding LGBT people.

Throughout the day we had riders standing at the intersection, greeting students as they went to and from the dorms and their classes. Despite harsh letters from the administrators, there were still students willing to stop and talk with us. In fact, many came out specifically to talk to us. To me, this demonstrates an immense bravery on the part of the students. They are so thirsty for this conversation that they are willing to risk disciplinary action from the administration (who had posted security guards to watch who was talking to us). One of them walked past the vigil line and said, "Hello Jillian, how are you today?" It was a very surreal day.

I found that many of these students simply had not stopped to consider what they had been taught about sexual orientation and gender identity. I know that many people walked away with "lots to think about." I was among them. I learned even more about the LDS faith than I had from Emil, Mike, and Matt thus far. And I really learned to examine what I believe in and why. I learned to listen. And I got to meet dozens of new people.

Among the students who stopped to talk with us were some wrestling with their sexual orientation or gender identity. For their protection, I won't describe the conversation other than to say it is unfortunate that these students must continue to suffer in silence within the walls of their institution. I am thankful for every conversation I had. And I am hopeful that other GLBT students felt affirmed simply by our presence, even if they could not bring themselves to talk with us.

Today we decided not to return to campus in light of the events at Virginia Tech. We wanted to process and mourn amongst ourselves and allow BYU-ID to do the same. As I walked to the local grocery store with a few other riders, we went past The Backyard--a restaurant near our hotel. We heard someone say "Are you with Soulforce?" We looked and found an employee who was walking in to the building. We said yes and she literally jumped for joy, screamed, and gave me a big hug. She tried to meet up with us yesterday she said, but couldn't find us. We told her about the picnic at Porter's park tonight at 5:00pm and she's going to come!

Six weeks into the ride, I would think that I would stop having "Wow, that just made this all worth it" moments. But I still have them. This trip has been worth it so many times over already, and I'm sure with our upcoming stops we will continue to impact even more lives.

And now it's time for me to leave for the park!

Madame Speaker...

On Monday, April 16, 2007, the Honorary Jerrold L Nadler (D- New York) stood before the House of Representatives and made this formal address, which has been logged in congressional record.

"Madame Speaker, I rise today to pay tribute to an extraordinary group of young adults - - The Equality Riders - - who have dedicated two months of their lives traveling thousands of miles, visiting 32 colleges and universities around the country and talking to countless students, faculty members and staff in pursuit of social justice.

The spirit of The Equality Ride was born out of the recognition that homophobia is globally pervasive and that no country, state, city, community or school escapes its reach. The Equality Ride offers a unique opportunity for student activists to dedicate their time and energy in the pursuit of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered equality through the practice of nonviolent resistance and educational campaigns.

I embrace the spirit of The Equality Ride and these leaders in the fight for social justice. The participants of the Equality Ride as well as its supporters have changed numerous lives, raised awareness and challenged notions regarding homosexuality through both on and off campus activities.

While conducting their work on the various campuses, riders confront some of their harshest critics and engage in structured dialogue with the academic community through classroom presentations, panel discussions, school-wide forums and film screenings as well as informal interactions. Outside of the college and university campuses, communities have welcomed the riders to share in worship, potlucks, fundraisers and meetings.

I applaud these riders and their supporters who have tirelessly waged a campaign of truth based on the nonviolent practices of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi to end the cycle of fear and misunderstanding that causes this vicious form of prejudice. As the Chairman of the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, it is my great honor to pay tribute to these visionary young people and congratulate them on their courage, determination and dedication."


I found this blog today. Weeks after we pulled away from the George Fox campus, the positive effects of our visit are still being felt in the community at large. And I am encouraged.

It's good to remember how often Quakers are tender people. Last week, for instance, I shared with A., in my meeting, the story of the encounter between Soul Force and George Fox University. I knew that I had been moved by the story. But to watch A. respond with brimming eyes and a face full of tenderness... I was moved by how readily he was moved.
This is why we go.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Catching Up

A lot has happened since my last blog and I apologize for that. We've already been to Portland. Seattle, and Nampa and are now situated in Rexburg, ID. I visited George Fox in Oregon, Seattle Pacific in Seattle, and Northwest Nazarene in Nampa, ID.

Before our arrival at George Fox, Kelsey's YoungLife leader from high school, Steve Sherwood, contacted her--he now teaches there. Before our stop at Seattle Pacific, Stef Shaffer, one of my YL leaders did too--she now works at SPU part-time while going to grad school nearby. It was encouraging to have their support and encouragement. I was one of the visitors to Steve's class and was able to speak with his wife afterwards. "God is already using you in amazing ways, we'll continue to pray for you." I don't think I ever would have imagined hearing those words in high school. I am supremely encouraged to know that there are supportive voices out there interacting with young people at such an important time in their personal and spiritual development.

Stef took Emil and I out to coffee on our first day in Seattle and we had a terrific time catching up on everything that has happened in the past few years. Stef has been thinking of me a lot as she has been following the ride, hoping that it isn't taking a tool on me and praying for my continued strength. She also made a point to come out to the presentations on campus.

Out time at Seattle Pacific University exceeded my wildest expectations. Haven and I gave a presentation on Genesis at 10am that was attended by well over 200 students. They filled every chair, sat in the aisles, perched on the window ledges, and crammed into the doorways. I was told by a reporter that an estimated 100 students had gathered outside, just listening since there was no room inside. After our presentation and a short response from an Old Testament scholar the questions began. "When did you become gay?" "How do you reconcile your sexual orientation with Scripture?" "Are you more at risk medically?" "Where do you find yourself in Scripture?" I believe we had positive answers for all of them and the presentation concluded with a standing ovation. I was nearly mobbed afterwards by students who wanted to hear more, who had new questions, who wanted to follow-up. There is a thirst for this conversation. I am so thankful that SPU decided to host it and I am hopeful that other universities on out route will do the same thing. These students are well equipped to wrestle with important theological issues...especially when the consequences are nothing short of a person's humanity.

Northwest Nazarene presented its own challenges. The administration there also allowed us on campus, and they made sure to remind us of that. I think they were surprised at the turn-out to both of our presentations. I was told that at least one remarked "we weren't expecting this many students to come." During our meals and in between presentations I again found students eager for this conversation. Some had never thought about it, some believed to be gay was a sin, some were GLBT-affirming but didn't quite know how to put those beliefs into action. I had mutually enriching conversations with everyone.

I hear that this conversation cannot happen, but time and time again it does. I hear that it must be an argument, but it never is. I hear that I am only looking to convert and not to learn, but I have walked away from every conversation enriched. The body of Christ is divided and at every stop I see people from both sides of the issue coming together to heal it. These conversations can happen, mutually understanding can be attained, discourse happen, graciousness can be maintained, new truths on both sides can be found. And most importantly, a greater understanding of what it means to be human can be learned. I feel imensely blessed to be a part of this ride, to share my story and my faith, and to interact with every one of the students and administrators that I have met to date.

Too bad there's only two more weeks left...

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Tis how we roll

I have been called queer. I have been called a faggot. I have been compared to Satan. I have been refused prayer. I have been asked to leave. I have been deemed unworthy to talk about faith. I have been refused entrance to worship. I have seen friends arrested for talking about Scripture. I have known people who have tried to kill themselves because they were taught being dead would be better. They know ones who have succeeded. I have observed silence in the face of real concerns. I have felt apathy concerning prejudice. I have had my love compared to adultery, pedophilia, incest, and bestiality. I have been told that just by being, I am sinning.

There are still places I am unwanted, still places I am unworthy, still place I am unwelcome, still places I am unsafe, still place I am unloved.

This is why we go.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Reactions from the school

I often hear from schools and individuals that don't wish to engage in dialogue with us that Soulforce and the Equality Ride is simply about protesting, about being in people's faces, about not respecting private property, about being a media spectacle, etc etc etc.

These things could not be further from the truth. And it is hard for me to even understand where these accusations are coming from when I get back from a campus, tired and sore, after 12 hours worth of spirit-filled dialogue.

If the Equality Ride is about anything, it is about frank and honest conversations where all parties can learn and be enriched. I'd like to share some reactions from students, faculty, and administrators after our visit:

"I appreciate greatly your integrity in the process of meeting us on campus."


"appreciate the way you all have engaged our campus"

"impressed with how genuine" your desire for dialogue is

"I think it's been a good day"

Some people were expecting "narrow-minded, abrasive, and in your face--and you weren't that at all"

I think those kinda speak for themselves.

Justice, Peace, and Reconcilliation

We had our first and only day on campus today at Fresno Pacific University in Fresno, CA. FPU was founded by the Mennonite Brethren which places a strong emphasis on justice, peace, and reconciliation for scriptural and spiritual understanding of faith. I was interested to see how this would play out on a campus that refuses to recognize GLBT individuals as valid members of the Christian community.

I spent the first half of the day speaking with GLBT-affirming students, faculty, and administrators. Pressing them to do more to create safe spaces on their campuses for this discussion and for GLBT individuals. With over 1,200 students there must be gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people amongst them. Why don't they feel safe to be honest about who they are? I'm not sure if any of these supportive voices had taken the time to think about if they were being supportive enough. I trust many had and I hope that they will be inspired to continue these conversations and this discussion after we left.

Aaron and I were able to visit an Ancient Near East history class and really dig into the Old Testament clobber passages. We looked at Genesis 19, the Leviticus texts, touched on Eziekel and Judges, and really unpacked Ancient Israelite culture. It was personally enriching for me and I feel as if everyone walked away from that class knowing a whole lot more than they walked in with. The time seemed to fly by and I had to continue a few discussions after class.

Today really felt like the Equality Ride. I constantly observed groups of students talking with riders. They were clustered around our tables and pulling people aside. They were crashing out meals to continue the discussions and asking to get out of work or classes early to meet with us.

I spent the entire time after my 4:00 presentation, all through dinner, and even went to the debriefing session late to talk with one student in particular. I understand his view of religion and the Bible a lot better now and I hope and trust that he understands my experience as a gay Christian better as well. I also hope that he, and others that we spoke to today, are able to consider how they view the Bible and what they think it says, and really contrast that with how we as Equality Riders see the Bible and what we think it says. And to consider the perspective of the many other GLBT Christians in their community, churches, state, and nation.

We have much to learn about each other, about how we treat people, and how we serve our God. I hope that Fresno Pacific University continues to grow in their love and understanding of the GLBT community within and outside of their university and faith.

Video: Equality Ride returns to Brigham Young

As I’m sure everyone knows, this is the Equality Ride’s second time at Brigham Young. The administration again refused to negotiate on-campus dialogue. Stop organizers Matt and Kourt knew that students were ready and waiting to talk about these issues that are literally life-or-death for too many Mormons. They organized presentations, dinner meetings, and discussion groups for our three days in Provo, UT. I would estimate that over a hundred people participated in the events while we were there. The Equality Ride brings a much needed conversation to campuses unwilling to have it on their own.

On our last day there, we moved our events closer to campus. A six-hour march around campus to make ourselves readily available to students, a press conference at the main gates of the school to let the community know of BYU’s refusal to dialogue, and an evening rally in nearby Kiwanis Park to give a voice to the Brigham Young students.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Video Blog: Kourt speaks about the stop at Brigham Young University

As I’m sure you have already read, Brigham Young University was not receptive to the Equality Ride’s attempt at dialogue on campus about their policies and the sweeping implications therein. Stop organizers Kourt Osborn and Matt Kulisch collected over 55 pages of concerns and grievances regarding LGBT students at BYU. Many students personally know LGBT students who have suicided or attempted suicide because of their sexuality and the fear and disconnection generated by BYU and LDS policy and doctrine. These concerns are very real.

Kourt Osborn and his mother decided to bring these concerns on to campus when university administrators refused a meeting to discuss them. In the following video, Kourt speaks about his time during the events planned around the Brigham Young University campus.

Days Off

After a very busy two days at Pepperdine University, we were able to take some time off in the Bay Area. We spent the first day in much needed team building and planning time at a Lutheran church in Berkley. I'm still amazed by the outpouring of church support. This ride has been very powerful for me to observe the outpouring of support by straight "adults" and people of faith. I let myself believe that being gay was something that was a thing of the youth generation and that the only non-gay supporters were liberal atheists who supported anything (much love to my roommate Carson!). That is simply not true. This really is a human issue. It is so exciting to really come to a full appreciation of the amazing, God-inspired diversity that exists within the LGBT community.

We were able to journey into San Francisco on our second day. One stop was the Museum of GLBT History. We were able to look through decades worth of history. Correspondence between poets in the 20s, costumes from early performers, pictures from the original Pride parades. We were also able to pour over magazine articles and periodicals about homosexuality ("the homophiles" as it was once called) and religion. They were in between exhibits so there were no elaborate displays but they took us back into their archives which was very exciting.

We got to spend the rest of the day running around the city. Mike, Kelsey, Emil and I got some drinks at surf 'n' turf shop near the Warf and went to the Castro and Market Street for some window shopping (and a little actual shopping). We tried to stop by the San Francisco LGBT Community Center but were already running late so we had to skip it.

Today's afternoon was spent in at a park in Modesto hosted by the PFLAG chapter there. Followed by an appearance at MOFEST, the Modesto LGBT film festival. We were guests of honor of sorts, rolling up in our big bus. The first thing shown was an excerpt from the Equality U documentary, which still chokes me up. I think most everyone else had a similar reaction. It is always nice to meet up with local communities as we travel. It really puts a face to the reasons why we are out in the field.

Tomorrow is community outreach in the Fresno area and final preparations for our time at Fresno Pacific next week. I'm excited!

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