It was 300 against four in Washington Circle Thursday morning, as a slew of students gathered to rally against members of the radical Westboro Baptist Church who were on campus to protest the University.
The Kansas-based group known for promoting an anti-gay message and picketing soldiers’ funerals was in Foggy Bottom to protest America’s youth for being what it calls “God-hating heathens.” The four members of the church that showed up were met by a large counterprotest that filled the north side of the circle.
Though more than 20 police officers blocked physical interaction between both groups, the early-morning gathering of students and area community members was for the most part calm. Many students wore shirts that said “I’m Gay for Today,” in support of three seniors’ initiative to send a message to the church, and held signs that mocked the signs of the WBC.
One student held a sign that said, “God hates J Street,” while another student, dressed as Jesus, held a sign that said, “No I don’t,” in reference to the WBC’s message that “God hates you.”
Editors of The GW Patriot – organizers of the counterprotest – said their goal was to overpower the church’s message through peaceful means.
“GW students came out in force and showed that we don’t support hate,” Will Frey, editor in chief of the conservative blog, said.
Dan Keylin, a senior editor at the blog, said the publication was motivated to organize a counterprotest because it wanted to turn a negative event into something positive.
“We came together, we had a good time and we definitely turned a negative event into a positive event by having fun with it,” Keylin said, adding that there seemed to be more laughs then chants. “Everyone conducted themselves with class.”
A large group gathered before the protest began, but members of the WBC said they hoped more members of the GW community would have showed up.
“I thought there were going to be more; I’m a little disappointed in them, I have to admit,” Jael Phelps, a member of the WBC, said.
Phelps added that her group decided to set its sights on the University after an altercation with a GW student during a previous trip to D.C.
“When we were at the Supreme Court of the United States one of the GW students in line asked us ‘When are you going to come to our school?'” Phelps said. “We said we’ll put you on the schedule. so we did.”
The church’s media attention hit a high point last month, when the Supreme Court said it would hear a case dealing with a soldier’s father who sued the group for damages after the church protested his son’s funeral. The decision is likely to be one of the court’s most important First Amendment decisions in recent history.?
Some students at the event said they were proud GW stood up against the organization’s radical message.
“It’s great to see that we have such a response to such an unbelievable message that [Westboro is] trying to promote,” said freshman Jane Fensterstock. “It’s a really great thing to see as a freshman. Regardless of what the support is for, you’re still going to have people by your side.”
The organizers of the “I’m Gay for Today” campaign said the counterprotest brought students and the community together.
“You see people from all walks of life walking around in this T-shirt and it’s really cool,” Tyler Fishbone, one of the organizers of the “I’m Gay for Today” campaign, said. “To get this many GW students out to do something, that’s a pretty cool thing to take part in.”
Fishbone said the protest was one of the largest gatherings of students he had seen at the University during his four years at the University.
“Seeing this sort of turnout gives me a lot of hope for the future, especially GW,” Fishbone said.