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September 26, 2008

Ohio University student joins bus tour of anti-gay campuses


Frankfort, Ohio--When this fall’s Soulforce Equality Ride departs Washington, D.C. to engage in dialogue about lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning people, an Ohio University student will be aboard.

Zak Rittenhouse, 21, will be one of the 18 riders attempting to engage students and faculty at 15 mostly southern colleges when the tour sets off on October 1.

Soulforce challenges homophobia at its source, religious bigotry, through non-violent civil disobedience in the tradition of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Mahatma Gandhi.

Equality Riders arrive at institutions typically known for their role in the anti-gay religious world, or for outright discrimination, and engages people in cafeterias, coffee shops and classrooms.

Some schools have welcomed the Equality Riders, and have helped facilitate symposiums on equality and other programs.

Other schools have been hostile and attempted to keep the LGBT people off their campus by having them arrested.

The Equality Ride began in 2006 with a stop at Rev. Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia.

This year’s ride will return to Liberty and make stops at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkansas, Southwestern Assemblies of God University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Texas, Heritage Christian University in Alabama, and Simmons College of Kentucky, which the closest it will come to Ohio.

The bus will also stop at two historically black colleges in Georgia, Morehouse and Spelman. These schools, though very progressive and welcoming of LGBT students, have historical ties to the Baptist church. The administrations of these schools welcomes the riders, and the interaction there will be focused on building ties instead of direct action.

Rittenhouse is studying communications and public advocacy at Ohio University’s Chillicothe branch, and was introduced to Soulforce and its activities by a friend while putting together an LGBT student group there.

Rittenhouse describes himself as a person of deeply rooted Christian faith, and also having been the victim of its discrimination.

One of only 90 people in his high school class, Rittenhouse came out as a freshman and in 2005, took his boyfriend to the prom.

“I had a strong group of friends,” said Rittenhouse. “They realized I was the same person they knew since kindergarten and accepted me.”

A snag occurred, said Rittenhouse, when the school secretary refused to sell him a prom ticket.

“A friend bought the ticket for me,” Rittenhouse said. “We had a great night.”

Rittenhouse and his date walked in and went to center stage for introduction like the other couples, but when he later saw the prom video, he discovered he and his date had been edited out.

Further, because of Rittehouse, local ministers delivered sermons about how gay people were the cause of the downfall of youth.

“Conservative Christian theology runs rampant here and it makes people fearful of coming out,” Rittenhouse said.

Frankfort is just west of Chillicothe, about 40 miles south of Columbus. It has about 4,500 residents.

“Those experiences hurt,” said Rittenhouse. “Their homophobia was based on religion.”

Rittenhouse said he’s an Equality Rider to be the voice for students who may not be able to speak.

The ride is Rittenhouse’s first experience with civil disobedience, and he has been training and reading the works of King and Gandhi.

“I’m a little scared to be arrested,” Rittenhouse said, “but we don’t choose to be arrested. The schools choose to have us arrested. If that’s what they choose, then so be it.”

During the ride, Rittenhouse will be blogging for Whosoever magazine, an online publication for LGBT Christians and will be doing a weekly podcast with its editor.

The ride lasts six weeks, from October 1 to November 13.

Rittenhouse can also be followed at

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