I’m still trying to figure out how I missed this last week.
For those of us who had allowed the unfortunate continued existence of hatemonger Fred Phelps, Pastor of Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas, to momentarily sink below our radar, his “organization” made itself all too visible on February 5, 2009 when anti-gay protesters descended upon Shawnee Mission East High School in Prairie Village, Kansas. The school was targeted because it has formed what it refers to as a “Gay and Straight Alliance,” and because the students elected an openly gay homecoming king in 2007. But this time, when Phelps’ dozen or so protesters appeared to shout and harass the public, they were not met by the Patriot Guard. They were confronted instead by hundreds of students, parents, and school staff who gathered outside the school to counter-protest.
Photo Credit: Tammy Ljungblad/The Kansas City Star
Phelps and his
hate cult church are infamous for their virulent anti-gay message. Phelps maintains that God is punishing America for homosexuality and asserts that tragedies such as 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina are in fact “acts of God,” examples of the Almighty exacting his vengeance upon a sinful culture. Their method is largely centered around creating controversy, and they often show up (or attempt to do so) at military funerals, gay pride gatherings, and political gatherings. In response to Phelps’ protests at military funerals, former President George W. Bush signed into law the Respect for America’s Fallen Heroes Act in May 2006, which prevents protesters from harassing mourners, and in April 2007, Kansas governor Kathleen Sebelius signed into law a bill establishing a 150-foot no-picketing buffer zone around funerals. But despite such efforts by Democrats and Republicans alike, the hate and harassment carry on in other venues or via different tactics, with Phelps’ people diligently seeking out new ways and new places to spread their message of hate.
It is inspiring to watch young people fight back against that message.
What’s amazing to me here is that these kids didn’t just shy away from the spiteful group of men and women who came to taunt and mock them. Instead of merely grumbling to themselves or stepping back, they and their parents and their teachers took action. They turned something negative into something positive. An anti-gay protest essentially became an AIDS benefit. It is truly uplifting to hear the enlightened viewpoints of some of the students.
“Everyone is equal whether you’re gay or straight,” said [Jake] Davidson, a 16-year-old junior from Leawood and an organizer of the student protest.
“It’s really cool that everyone wants to be involved and take a stand against this. It doesn’t surprise me that everyone wants to help out.”
He said word of the counterprotest ran through the school like wildfire.
The protest lasted approximately an hour, and the students pledged money for AIDS for every minute Phelps’ hate posse was there.
This is America’s youth. This is the hope I see for our country. This is the very best of our nation rising up against the very worst — the kind of hatred and intolerance which even Freepers go out of their way to fight. The remarkable thing is, these young men and women didn’t just rise up in outrage. They didn’t counter hate with hate. They countered it with love. They chose words of love and peace over rhetoric of hate and violence. They stood in the face of something hideous and turned the occasion into something beautiful. They “fought back” with compassion and tolerance and charity.
What a wonderful way to win a battle.