The SoulForce Equality Ride moves forward each day in their quest to reach the American people on the issues surrounding GLBT equality. Previous coverage of the Equality Ride outlined the mission of a busload of GLBT youth who hit the road this spring in protest of repressive policies on college and university campuses. The 50-day event is intended to garner support for GLBT equality in admission and other policies in place at primarily military and religious education institutions around the nation. The 35 young adult members will visit 19 campuses where known homophobic policies are in place. All campuses on the itinerary ban the enrollment of GLBT students.
Angel Collie of North Carolina is part of the group. Angel is the only transgender member of the group.
"To step out and step up in so many ways," mused Collie, "I feel like it has forced me to have many uncomfortable conversations and step up in uncomfortable situations. I have talked to people who see me as sick and sinful and continued to trudge as far as they would go in an attempt to find middle ground or a place of reconciliation. This ride has been a true test of faith."
The event has challenged everything he ever thought it means to be an advocate. Continuing daily to brave new waters, Collins has had to rely on faith. "As a person, the expectations I set for myself have been challenging. I keep getting reminded how little I believe in what I can do, but just how much God can do through me,” affirmed Collie.
He began writing his speeches out much like an essay and now confidently relies on one small business card with a few small points on the back. For his efforts toward advocacy for GLBT equality, Angel has been arrested three times to date.
He couldn’t sleep much the night before the Liberty University visit, the site of his first arrest. He decided to begin fasting the next morning. Jerry Falwell, well-known television evangelist as well as Senior Pastor for Thomas Road Baptist Church and President of Liberty University, announced that as soon as the Equality Riders walked onto campus they would be arrested. The media and police rushed toward them while, one by one, they stepped off the bus. As ‘Someone’s Sister’ played, locals and students were already there to offer their support or opinions." As we stood outside their gates many drove by yelling "faggots." admitted Angel," it was not until I stepped off the bus that the reality that I was going to jail set in. I knew once I took that step onto campus I would not have the freedoms I have always enjoyed. I must admit being trans added another scary element to it. I just was unsure how they would perceive me and treat me."
One bye one as their speeches began, they were arrested, and the next person continued to finish the speech. Angel was nervous as he waited his turn to speak.
“As I watched my friends taken away gave me an unexplainable feeling of purpose" Angel reflected. “I felt a power and a grace come over me. I stepped up and I began reading. I was then bluntly cut off and placed under arrest. They handcuffed me behind my back with black plastic cuffs." Being an “F2m [female-to-male] transgendered person,” arrest for Angel was a dangerous situation.
"I had to give them my ID which was a scary moment for me," Angel recalls. "I have the gender marked off rather than embracing a inaccurate binary gender system. They assumed I was male and treated me that way throughout. Those arrested were then placed in a transport van.”
He was alone in a cage-like box separate from the females. They were all taken to the Magistrate charged with trespassing. They were assigned a court date. Returning outside later, the group cheered for them, then welcomed them with hugs and questions.
"Once I was released, I was changed with a sense of freedom I hadn’t felt before. I felt proud that I had been able to be scared and stand up for something I believe. I was able to keep the cuffs which I found exciting!” Angel retorted.
After that incident, Angel has been arrested at Oral Roberts (ORU) and Brigham Young University, in Utah. As Equality Riders arrived at ORU campus, he was nervous standing in the vigil line. "I felt like I was going to freeze my buns off,’ Angel says. "I was near the back of the line and had chosen Micah 6:8 as my passage of scripture. It reads, "What does the Lord require of thee: to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with the Lord thy God." He stepped up and began reading from his Bible. Then he was asked to stop and was read his Miranda rights.
“I was given a chance to turn back but I knew I could not,” Angel explained. “It was my duty to follow through on this civil disobedience for the good of the community and in honor of those who suffered before me so that I could be ‘out’ today."
He was handcuffed. This time it was much tighter than it had been at Liberty. He was once again categorized as male. "Finally”, Angel celebrated, “someone’s getting it right! We were separated in a van with males on one side and females on the other." Angel continues, "Initially we were taken to a processing station where we filled out our paperwork and waited to be transported to the county jail in downtown Tulsa. I was sitting with the males when someone noticed the gender and asked me to move to the other bench."
Angel decided rather than sitting with the females he would just stand.
At the county facility he was searched and processed as male and placed with them. "When we were talking to the females in our group, we got yelled at because males are not allowed to talk with females in jail. I couldn’t help but chuckle a little," jokes Angel.
Nine people were arrested around 11 a.m. and were not released until after 7 p.m. They were intentionally kept as long as possible. After the 5 and 6 p.m. local news broadcasts, the others in the holding area saw them as heroes. Bail was set at $104 per person, and they were given a court date for misdemeanor trespassing charges.
"I am a Christian,” Collie testifies, “who feels a strong calling to go into the ministry. I really see myself struggling on the issues focused on during this entire experience."
The military stops are completely different. After having just been at the Air Force Academy, Angel was again reminded how much is at stake in the situation surrounding the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy. "The people who came out to speak with us needed us there. They just needed to talk to open-minded people. Some of the cadets even came out to me”, Collie continues. "I was touched at the Air Force Academy in a way I had not been at Texas A and M."
Angel has made many personal sacrifices to participate with the Equality Ride.
"Coming on this ride is a pretty huge commitment because you give up your life, your friends, family, church, for two intensive months”, Angel reiterates. "I miss my friends. Some understood, and some thought it was a crazy idea. I miss my best friend who never wants to talk to me anymore, because people are always around. I lost my partner before I came on the ride. She did not want to deal with the jealousy and insecurities that would come from being alone while I was on a bus with 33 queer people."
Collie is frequently rewarded in his journey. "I look back to a girl at Lee University who came to me in tears and talked about how she was one of those people who suffers everyday because of fear and homophobia on campus,” Angel remembers. “She even told me, ‘You come and are here for two days, but then you get to leave and I have to stay.’ It broke my heart. I wanted to scoop her up and save her from it all. “
Angel has met so many more GLBT people on these campuses than he ever expected to meet. Many come out to him.
"So many people have been living and suffering in silence,” Angel explains, "and through us they were able to learn who may be going through what they are or who their allies are on campus.