by Hugo Salinas
With a passion for equality and social justice, Robert Moore is a busy activist. He has participated in marches, rallies and demonstrations around the country, from the Civil Rights March to Sacramento in 2009 to the Queer Rising protests of 2011, in New York, demanding marriage equality. In these events, as well as in his online presence, Robert identifies himself a gay Mormon, convinced that this identity, which he proudly claims, can help save young lives and inspire others to action.
In the last two years, Moore has been involved in Affirmation: Gay & Lesbian Mormons, with a special focus on LGBT youth, homelessness, and suicide awareness and prevention. In 2010 he helped organize a rally in San Francisco. Held only days after a string of suicides by young LGBT people, the event was attended by hundreds of Mormons, people of other faiths, community leaders and activists. Two weeks ago, Moore was appointed Affirmation’s vice president—one of three people who currently lead the organization nationwide.
Now living in Salt Lake City, Moore has announced he will participate in this year’s Equality Ride. Sponsored by Soulforce, Equality Ride visits schools that discriminate against LGBTQ people, where the group attempt to engage with students in conversations about faith, sexual orientation and gender identity. With a returned missionary, Jason Conner, as co-director, this year’s ride will include a stop in Utah.
What are some of the principles behind Soulforce and the Equality Ride?
Soulforce believes in relentless nonviolent resistance. Soulforce works nonviolently to end the religious and political oppression of LGBTQ people.
Soulforce aims to visit the hundreds of schools in the United States that openly discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer individuals and their Allies through their policies and practices. On these campuses, LGBTQA students and faculty are forced to suffer in silence. If they come out, they are subject to expulsion and can even be forced into harmful “ex-gay” or “reparative” therapy programs.
The Equality Ride strives to begin conversations at the institutions they visit. We will go into these communities at the request and in collaboration with the very folks who are suffering in silence.
In 2009 you told me that while growing up, you were always taught to stand up for what you believe in. How can our Mormon background inspire our activism?
Growing up LDS, I was also taught to serve God. I always felt the need to help improve the lives of my fellow brothers, sisters and my gender nonconforming siblings. During my childhood, I was not able to do as much as I would have liked because I grew up in a low-income family, so my family was the one in need of help. I feel that it is now my turn to pay forward the help my family received from relatives, friends and the Church. Doing what I can for others is the way that I can serve God and uphold my beliefs and standards.
Some people feel that by openly confronting institutions, and sometimes even being arrested, the Equality Riders send the wrong message. How do you respond to that?
My feeling is, if done in love, openly confronting institutions or people who enact harmful policies and practices can be very empowering to many who see this exchange and can educate someone who may just have been given misinformation.
Civil disobedience and being arrested are done only after all other options have been turned down or failed. This is not something that I ever enter into lightly. It is a way to say “we have tried every other way we know how to engage in a dialogue with you, and you need to hear our message or see our faces.”
All the schools are contacted several times, months before we arrive. The Equality Ride does all they can to have open communication with the faculty and students; unfortunately, some schools just shut the door and try to ignore the fact that they have LGBTQ students on their campuses. In some cases, the Equality Ride feels that LGBTQ students need to see or hear other LGBTQ folks, and we will make the decision to try to enter into those conversations even if it means that stepping onto the campus will put us at risk of arrest.
I realize that many of the details are still being planned, but what can you tell me about the stop in Utah?
All I can say is that we will be in the Salt Lake City area for four days between March and the end of April. There are several possible schools on the list to visit during that time; no decision has been made yet about which one or ones we will be visiting.
In a historic milestone, a group of LGBT students has recently been allowed to meet informally at BYU. Isn’t there a danger that by visiting or demonstrating at BYU, the administration will reverse some of these positive signs of change?
While BYU is on the list of possible schools for us to visit, no decision has been made yet about to if we will be visiting it. All the possible schools for the 2012 Equality Ride have been contacted more than once already, and we will be working with all local groups, clubs and communities to try to make sure that our visit does not cause harm to the LGBTQ students or faculty of the schools that we actually do decide to visit.
What is your message to LGBT students who feel depressed or lonely?
My message is that you are not alone in the world or even on your campus. You have many siblings who understand and love you. You are a beautiful child of God and just the way you were meant to be.
What is the Hit the Road campaign?
The Hit the Road Campaign offers individuals and groups the opportunity to join us on the ride as Virtual Equality Riders. Every year the Equality Riders host what are known as “Rider Pages” on the Soulforce website. These pages provide photos and bios about each rider, and are a method for the riders’ friends and supporters to offer monetary gifts for the journey. Now, in addition, other individuals and groups can have their own “Virtual Rider” pages with photos, bios, and a description of why they are supporting the Equality Ride program.
Individuals and groups will be able to sign up as virtual riders with an opening donation of $100. They will then have a rider page where they can direct friends, group members, congregants and supporters to make donations. Virtual riders who raise at least $1,000 by the launch of the 2012 ride will have their names listed on the outside of the actual bus! In addition, virtual riders will get exclusive updates and videos from the road and be the first to receive news about the 2012 ride. Upon registering, virtual riders can download a special kit that will help them support their Virtual Rider Page.
What can LGBT Mormons do to support the ride?
People can support the ride by setting up their own Rider Page or by donating to one the Equality Riders pages. They can email or post on their Facebook wall the Riders Pages to help raise funds, educate and promote the 2012 Equality Ride. My Rider Page can be found at soulforce.org if anyone would like to help with my fundraising efforts. All donations are tax deductible, help to offset the cost of the ride, and help to ensure the ride will continue in coming years. The ride is free to all the riders, so donations are very important to making it successful.