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Where they went

A traveling forum for equality

Bryana White at a picnic in New Paltz, N.Y., with other activists. Bryana White at a picnic in New Paltz, N.Y., with other activists.
Email|Print| Text size + By Diane Daniel
Globe Correspondent / October 7, 2007

WHO: Bryana White, 23, of Kingston, R.I.

WHERE: New York

WHEN: Two weeks in July

WHY: To participate in the Right to Marry Campaign, organized by Soulforce Q, the young-adult arm of Soulforce, a nonprofit group based in Lynchburg, Va., that promotes "freedom for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people from religious and political oppression through the practice of relentless nonviolent resistance."

WHY CARE: "Marriage equality is an issue I'm passionate about," said White, a New Bedford native and doctoral student in clinical psychology at the University of Rhode Island. "Being heterosexual, I feel like I take it for granted, but it's ludicrous that friends of mine can't marry. I do have many friends who are LGBTQ [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer], and this is one way I can help them. And as an African-American woman, I see a lot of similarities with the civil rights movement. I feel like my generation isn't really politically active. A lot of us think no one will take us seriously. But this is a forum where we can do something."

WHY SOULFORCE: White heard about Soulforce from a friend at Vassar College, where she earned her undergraduate degree. "They follow the practices of Gandhi and Martin Luther King. We would be talking to lawmakers and regular people. A lot of people who aren't for marriage equality don't really know what it is. So it's not open bigotry, but misunderstanding."

WHY NEW YORK: Governor Eliot Spitzer proposed legislation this year that would legally sanction same-sex marriage in the state, though the Senate has yet to vote on the bill. Soulforce organized four caravans totaling 32 young adults to crisscross the state visiting the home districts of state lawmakers. They first had several days of training in Albany. "We went over the literature on marriage equality, talked about lawmakers, the process, and how we personally felt," White said. "It was one of the most amazing experiences I've had, being with this big mix of people from all over the country. It was predominantly people who were LGBTQ and comfortable with themselves, and speak passionately and eloquently. I would just be angry. The leaders were amazing people, young adults who have given themselves to these rights not just for two weeks, but for years."

TOWN TO TOWN: White's group "traveled all over upstate New York in our little van. For the most part we stayed at churches that were LGBTQ-friendly, or homes. We brought sleeping bags; it felt a little bit like summer camp." The route took them to Syracuse, Binghamton, Catskill, New Paltz, Poughkeepsie, and Long Island before reconvening with all the campaigners in the Bronx. Before scheduled meetings, "we'd arrive a few hours before and change into our meeting clothes in a Starbucks or in the van. Sometimes we'd talk to a senator or representative, sometimes a staff person, or sometimes they refused. When that happened, we'd contact supportive community members and throw a picnic in a local park."

DOOR TO DOOR: Occasionally the group canvassed neighborhoods and businesses to discuss the difference between civil unions and marriage. White said they were generally well received. "Maybe it's our youthful naivete and that we were a group of fresh-faced, well-dressed young people. People are generally respectful, even when they're not for something."

SEE WHERE THEY ALL WENT

For other readers' photos, visit boston.com/wheretheywent. Send suggestions within two weeks of your return to diane@bydianedaniel.com. Share your photos at yourphotos.boston.com.

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