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Eastern alum joins Soulforce’s Equality Ride

Mandy Matthias,’06 alum, describes her first two years at Eastern as a dark time, filled with tension between her sexuality and her spirituality.

She was a quiet, withdrawn girl, focused on the tumult inside her mind.

“Then I had the guts to actually talk to a professor and she said, ‘Look, you’re okay and it’s gonna be all right no matter how you decide to deal with it,'” Matthias said. “That’s the first time I had ever heard anyone say it was going to be all right.”

Regarding her sexuality and her spirituality: “I’ve spent most of my life to this point trying to choose one or the other,” Matthias said. “Realizing the two are not mutually exclusive has changed everything for me.”

Matthias has learned how to deal with being openly lesbian and a Christian. Now she has a chance to share what she has found with others by traveling with the Equality Ride in the spring.

The Equality Ride is a seven-week bus tour that protests discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students.

It is sponsored by Soulforce, an organization that fights religious and political oppression of LGBT people. The first Ride visited Eastern and eighteen other schools last April, sparking dialogue and controversy.

Matthias was inspired to join when the Riders met with Refuge, an Eastern club that offers support to students struggling with their sexuality. Refuge was founded by Matthias and senior Jeri-Lynn Aquino last March.

“After a lot of thought and prayer and consideration, everything started to fall into place for me to go,” Matthias said.

She went through an extensive application process that included soul-searching essays and was notified in August of her acceptance.

Matthias is managing a Journeyz for Kids store in the King of Prussia mall to fill time until the Ride, which will take place throughout March and April 2007.

She also said she is also busy with preparatory training, which includes conference calls, research into the schools she will be visiting and a week of non-violence training.

This last item is especially appropriate, because the Equality Ride is based on the Freedom Rides of the 1960s, which tested the 1946 Supreme Court ruling that segregated bus seating was unconstitutional.

The Freedom Riders faced violence and imprisonment for traveling on desegregated buses.

Last spring’s Equality Riders were arrested for entering the campuses of West Point Military Academy and the Air Force Academy. They were physically removed from their positions of protest at North Central University in Minnesota.

“With the non-violence training, we’ll have a healthy way to react to that instead of an emotional gut reaction,” Matthias said.

“I don’t think I could find the strength to do it if I didn’t have such a strong network of support around me,” Matthias said, referring to her church, Central Baptist in Wayne, and current Refuge members.

For students who may need support in this area, Matthias suggested talking to a faculty member.

“They’ll recognize a kid in trouble is a kid in trouble, no matter what their personal feelings are,” she said.

More information on the Equality Ride can be found at www.soulforce.org and www.equalityride.com.

Refuge meets Monday nights at 8 in Walton 1.

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