Tom Braslavsky: Protesting Fred Phelps

Having grown up in Kansas, my home is only about an hour’s drive from homophobic and anti-American pastor Fred Phelps’ Topeka-based Westboro Baptist Church, which last Monday picketed the White House and several other targets in the D.C. area. The White House protest was a demonstration against America – an “evil” and “rebellious” land, according to the church’s Web site – and President Barack Obama, whom Phelps has labeled “the Antichrist.”

Phelps and his church, which is mostly made up of indoctrinated family members (nine of his children and many of their children are active members), are infamous for their hateful slogan, “God Hates Fags.” Traveling around the country, they protest at high school and college graduations, notable speakers and government buildings and, most controversially, the funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

As someone from the state of Kansas, I absolutely deplore everything that Fred Phelps and his church stand for. This February, Phelps protested outside of my high school. The WBC press release stated the demonstration was against our homecoming king senior year, who was gay. It then quoted a biblical passage about God destroying his people. I remember jumping when seeing the bold black letters that said God hates my high school.

But students at my alma mater would not let the WBC get away with such a hateful protest. They took initiative to counter the church’s demonstration: For every minute that the protest took place, students and parents pledged a certain amount of money to AIDS research. The students gathered peacefully on the opposite side of the street from Phelps, and by the end of Phelps’ demonstration, they had raised about $200 per minute – a total of around $13,000.

Last week’s counterprotest here in D.C. had many more participants than the WBC group itself, and I felt proud to see so many GW students out there – though more could never hurt (the number of protestors here did not reach the hundreds who reportedly gathered in front of my high school in February). Countering Phelps’ hateful signs were signs proclaiming, “God is Love” and “God Loves Everyone.” The crowd chanted, “We forgive you!” and “2, 4, 6, 8, God does not hate!” An initiative called Phelps-A-Thon, similar to that at my high school, donated about $12 per minute to Gays and Lesbians Opposing Violence, an organization that works to counter all forms of hate-motivated violence. According to Phelps-A-Thon organizer Chris Mason, the event raised over $550. The group plans on sending a thank-you note to Phelps, telling him how much money he raised for LGBT equality.

Though one initiative happened in D.C. and the other in Kansas, these reactions were constructive ways of countering Phelps and the WBC. The picket schedule on the WBC Web site says the word “hate” 41 times. By taking advantage of their hate to fund causes that promote love and positive feelings – helping find a cure for AIDS, preventing hate-based violence and other such endeavors – sensible people can show the Westboro Baptist Church that its delusional hatred will never succeed in our society.

The writer, a freshman majoring in international affairs, is a Hatchet columnist.

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