Tour for gay rights denied access to Lutheran college

(MCT) – Some 25 young activists from the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender advocacy group Soulforce staged a vigil outside Wisconsin Lutheran College on Monday to protest the school’s policy against “homosexual lifestyle” as part of a three-day visit in Milwaukee.

Wisconsin Lutheran College officials did not allow the riders on campus, so the group set up camp Monday on the sidewalk in front of the school’s main entrance. Some sang “We Shall Overcome” while others staffed tables with pamphlets for any students who might want to talk.

Among the riders was Justin Hager, 21, a native of Superior, Wis., and a junior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who is openly gay and an evangelical Christian. His parents, Manfred and Cheryl Hager, drove down from Superior in a show of solidarity with their son.

Justin Hager said Soulforce hoped to spur dialogue with students and the school about issues related to homosexuality.

“The goal is to let closeted LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) people know there is support,” Hager said. “God created them just the way he wanted them to be, without reservation.”

Wisconsin Lutheran is one of 32 mostly Christian colleges and universities that Soulforce will visit as part of its second annual Soulforce Equality Ride, in which riders travel in two tour buses for two months, hitting up schools that Soulforce says openly discriminate based on sexual identity.

Wisconsin Lutheran, a Christian private liberal arts college on Milwaukee’s west side, has a policy that states having a homosexual lifestyle is a sin.

“The college teaches, counsels, and disciplines in accord with this conviction,” reads the policy.

College officials released a statement Monday that says its students choose to abide by the school’s mission and policies.

“Our stance that ‘sexual intimacy is reserved by God for marriage and that a homosexual lifestyle is sin’ has been our stated policy for years,” the statement reads. “We do not discriminate – all sexual intimacy outside of marriage is wrong. This is a religious issue for us.”

Administrators, the campus pastor and about 20 students met with a handful of equality riders off-campus Monday afternoon, where Soulforce representatives gave a presentation on progressive theology, said Brandon Kneefel, spokesman for Soulforce.

“It was very censored, very uncandid. It was hard, but in the end the students did reach out to us, hugged us, cried to us,” Kneefel said.

Last week, the group visited the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, where six Soulforce equality riders were arrested by campus security after the activists ignored trespass warnings, university spokesman Dennis Brown said.