Philly Riders Join Soulforce

The Equality Ride departs Philly starting with a week of events on Feb. 26

Soulforce, a non-profit organization that advocates on behalf of the LGBT community, has announced this year’s Equality Riders, a team of 15 advocates who will embark on a two-month cross-county bus tour from Philly. The events gearing up to the national tour get started on Sunday, Feb. 26.

Jason Conner (all photos courtesy of Soulforce)

Co-directors Jason Conner, 27, and J. Mason, 27, will lead the riders during this fifth tour starting in Philadelphia before winding its way across the country to San Francisco. Along the way, the activists will reach out to communities and confront oppression experienced by both students and faculty at colleges and universities with policies that discriminate against LGBT people. Joining Conner and Mason on the 2012 Equality Ride are Crystal Cheatham, Ovid Amorson, Ibrahim Vicks and Christian Parks – all from Philadelphia.

J Mason

Cheatham, a creative writer and singer/songwriter, is the founder of the IDentity Kit Project, which helps affirm the sexual identity and spirituality of young adults. As someone who was once immersed in the fundamentalist world, she identifies with many young Christians who may fear coming out.

“It was definitely one thing to have religion interfere with my personal growth,” says Cheatham. “I say that because coming out at 23 is almost like having a second puberty – not pretty, not fun. It was something different altogether to realize organizations like my church were purposefully sabotaging my freedoms. I’m on this ride, in a way, to stand up for myself and to claim back pieces of me.”

Amorson, who joined the Equality Ride to address civil rights, adds, “Religious oppression does exists and does contribute a great deal to the damage of our collective human existence. People who are not practicing love are our sisters and brothers, and they can be challenged and checked. We need to begin to see the spaces to plant seeds of love and grow into ourselves.”

The Equality Rider bus is gasing up to kick off its tour starting in Philly this weekend (pictured: bus from two years ago)

Vicks is also young activist as the Youth Planning Committee President at The Attic Youth Center, where an event about non-violent resistance takes place on March 2.

Also riding this year – Parks, a 20-year-old who who says he’s devoted to spirituality – explains, “Within the religious community there is the opportunity to just be human and to journey in what living in full humanity looks like. I am on a pursuit of truth about God and how to be more human. By my religion, I am charged to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God. So this adventure is the combination of all three wrapped in one.”

During the past month, the Equality Riders trained in nonviolent resistance and community service in preparation for the tour. Soulforce has also announced eight events leading up to the start of the ride.

Here’s a full list of events:

Feb. 26 (7 – 9 p.m.): It’s an evening of poetry about what it means to be a straight, gay, queer, trans man at Moonstone Performing Arts Center (110A South Street). The event features poets from both Philly and New York City.

Feb. 27 – March 3: The William Way presents an art show in honor of the Equality Ride’s fifth national tour.

Feb. 27 (5:30 – 8 p.m.): There’s a community potluck and Equality Riders meet and greet at the Church of the Holy Trinity (1904 Walnut Street) with food, conversation and clips from a documentary about Soulforce.

Feb. 29 (9 – 11 p.m.): A Poet’s Art Gallery (4510 Walnut Street) hosts a cabaret showcasing the talents of current and former Equality Riders with spoken word, comedy, music and storytelling.

March 1 (8 p.m.): “Jesus Had Two Daddies” is a play that takes a look at the sometimes quirky side of scripture with writer and performance artist Peterson Toscano.

March 2 (4 -6 p.m.): The Attic Youth Center hosts a workshop and town hall meeting that addresses the importance of GSAs in schools, as well as safe, non-violent ways to resist bullying.

March 3 (10 a.m. – 2 p.m.): The Equality Riders participate in a community service project at the Morris Home, Philly’s first shelter for the transgender community.

March 3 (7 – 10:30 p.m.): See the Equality Riders off in style during a special event with food, drinks, live entertainment, awards and a silent auction at the William Way.