Westboro Baptist Church, made infamous by their slogan “God Hates Fags,” is so far outside the American mainstream that it’s tempting to just ignore them.
But when WBC announced plans to picket East Lansing High School on Thursday, “it quickly became clear that WBC’s visit would not fly under the radar, and that an alternative gathering could serve as an outlet for those who wanted to drown out their rhetoric,” wrote East Lansing City Manager Theodore Staton in his blog.
Westboro Baptist Church is well-known for picketing military funerals, claiming that the deaths of U.S. soldiers are God’s judgment on America’s tolerance of homosexuality. WBC targeted East Lansing High School for a picket because students had sent e-mails to the church, criticizing its actions.
Local faith leaders, students, and activists quickly organized a counter-event, Unity in Our Community, at the nearby All Saints Episcopal Church. “We wanted to have this celebration of diversity to show the community that we can come together, that we love our youth, and we love the diversity of our community,” said Rev. Kathryn Bert, minister at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Greater Lansing.
Other local groups who supported the Unity in Our Community rally included the Peace Education Center of Greater Lansing, the Greater Lansing Network Against War & Injustice, the Michigan Peace Team, and Gateway Community Services.
The community response was very positive. Over 300 people came to support the Unity in Our Community rally. “I can’t remember a time when I have been prouder to call this community my home,” said City Manager Theodore Staton.
East Lansing High School Students collected money at the rally to distribute to the following organizations:
- East Lansing High School Gay Straight Alliance
- Alliance of Queer and Ally Students at MSU
- Equality Michigan
- AIDS Research Alliance
- Lansing Area AIDS Network
- Southern Poverty Law Center
Unitarian Universalists in Virginia sent WBC a similar message when they picketed Woodbridge High School on Monday. Details are on the Standing on the Side of Love site.