Annoying the WBC compound across the street, Planting Peace’s Equality House held a fundraiser for their anti-bullying and human rights advocacy programs.
A small protest by the vehemently homophobic Westboro Baptist Church was scuppered yesterday, after it triggered a huge pro-LGBT counter-demonstration in the town of Bozeman, Montana.
It all started with a 6-year-old girl who wanted to take a stand against the Westboro Baptist Church and promote peace. Now, it is a national event.
By now, everyone’s just about had it with the Westboro Baptist Church, a group whose members use national tragedies as opportunities to forward anti-gay hate speech. Ironically, their planned protests often bring communities together in opposition to their message. Now, an unlikely group has mounted a gay offensive against the WBC. On Sunday, July 14, the Satanic Temple, a New York-based organization that seeks to foster “benevolence and empathy among all people” through Satan, performed a ritual called a “pink mass” at the Mississippi gravesite of Catherine Idalette Johnston, mother of WBC founder Fred Phelps Jr.
The aim? To “turn” the WBC founder’s mom gay for all eternity.
"Upon completion of the pink mass ceremony, Catherine Johnston is now gay in the afterlife," notes the Satanic Temple website, which has the cheeky URL www.westboro-baptist.com. “Fred Phelps is obligated to believe that his mother is now gay … [and] if beliefs are inviolable rights, nobody has the right to challenge our right to believe that Fred Phelps believes that his mother is now gay.”
The latter assertion appears to be a play on the WBC’s own stance that their beliefs are totally infallible. The Pink Mass was performed twice — once with two gay men, and once with two lesbians — in an affirmation of the Satanist Temple’s belief in “freedom and the pursuit of happiness for all people.” The temple is now encouraging same-sex couples to visit the grave and perform their own pink masses.
Vice reports that the idea for the pink mass came about in April, after the WBC threatened to protest the funerals of the Boston Marathon bombing victims. The website compared the the pink mass to “the Mormon practice of baptizing the dead, only much gayer.” In an email to The Huffington Post, Greaves indicated that the ritual could be an effective counter-protest.
"We intend to perform the pink mass for both Fred Phelps’s father and great-aunt who raised him after his mother’s death, but only in reply to their future pickets. The pink mass could be used to protest other anti-gay hysterics, but it is particularly appropriate when applied to Westboro," Greaves wrote.
LINK TW: gay slurs
University of Central Florida students plan to protest the Westboro Baptist Church’s upcoming visit to the college later this month, according to KnightNews.com. The controversial religious group plans to visit UCF on July 15 to, it says, to “remind this generation that they have so enraged the Lord their God that their destruction is imminent!”
TW: gay slur
The Westboro Baptist Church has responded to one little girl’s campaign to raise money for peace the only way they seem to know how: with a homophobic jab. Over the weekend, the story of Jayden Sink and her lemonade stand went viral online, with thousands of people sharing news of how a 5-year-old took on the Westboro Baptist Church. As The Huffington Post previously reported, Jayden is the daughter of Jon Sink, founder of the philanthropic arts group FRESHCASSETTE - Creative Compassion. The two decided to sell lemonade outside the Equality House — a rainbow-colored dwelling owned by nonprofit Planting Peace that campaigns for human rights, gay rights and anti-bullying efforts — to raise money for peace and love Saturday.
The Equality House sits across the street from the Westboro Baptist Church’s Topeka, Kan., compound, and the anti-gay, quasi-religious group was none too happy with Jayden’s event. Members from the group apparently attempted to call the local police and later stooped to yelling profanities at lemonade drinkers. On Monday, Westboro members took things to a new low when they posted an anti-gay message on their marquee, reading: “FAGS & ENABLERS ALL BURN IN HELL LEMONADE WON’T COOL ANY TONGUES.”
A sign outside the Westboro Baptist Church compound. Story continues below.
Davis Hammet, Director of Operations at Planting Peace, is not surprised Westboro rejected Jayden’s message. The group’s messages of hate have been directed at many more people than just Jayden. Just a few days ago, that same marquee had a message thanking God for killing the children in the Oklahoma tornado.
"We don’t hate the Westboro Baptist members, we pity them," he told The Huffington Post in an email correspondence Monday. "We see their hateful signs every day and they remind us how important it is to take a stand for equality and justice. The nasty things they say come from a very dark place. We truly pity them and are thrilled that many members are finding their way out of this hate group."
Of course, we all know who the real winner is. To date, Jayden has helped raise more than $16,000 for Planting Peace and the Equality House with an online campaign through Crowdrise. She plans to set up her stand outside the Equality House on more hot summer days in the future. Planting Peace founder Aaaron Jackson wants everyone to remember this is a story about peace and not about retribution, he told HuffPost in a separate email Monday. Jayden simply sought to spread goodwill, something Westboro chooses not to do.
"I believe that Jayden’s story of spreading love and peace by raising awareness and money by way of a little pink lemonade stand is why so many people have embraced the story and felt compelled to take part in the movement."
What happens when a little girl decides to set up a lemonade stand for peace outside the Westboro Baptist Church headquarters in Kansas? Members of the community step out in droves to show support, even as the hate group tries to quash it. Five-year-old Jayden, the daughter of Jon Sink, founder of the philanthropic arts group FRESHCASSETTE - Creative Compassion, decided to set up a stand selling pink lemonade at The Equality House on Friday afternoon. The Equality House is a rainbow-colored building directly across the street from Westboro’s Topeka compound. The house, which was painted the colors of the pride flag in March, was bought by Aaron Jackson, one of the founders of Planting Peace, a multi-pronged nonprofit set up in 2004 and aimed at spreading goodwill and equality around the globe.
Jayden, who is from Kansas City, decided to set up her stand at the Equality House after her parents explained to her the significance of its construct. After being told that the church across the street had a message of hate, she set a goal of raising money to go towards a message of love and peace. So she painted a banner for the event reading, “Pink Lemonade for Peace: $1 Suggested Donation.” She put the stand in the grass and waited. But the waiting didn’t take long. Supporters came in by the droves and $1 turned into hundreds of dollars.
During the day, Westboro sent representatives outside to try and find a way to stop the event. They apparently attempted to call the local police and stooped to yelling profanities when that didn’t work, like calling a group of soldiers who rode out on their motorcycles to support the event “bastards.” Westboro’s hate couldn’t stop Jayden. She not only raised $400 during the day on Friday, but she has also collected over $1000 with an online campaign set up through Crowd Rise. Some people donated as little as $10 and as much as $230. One person gave $26, dedicating it to every person killed six months ago in the Newtown, Conn., massacre.
"As we all know, the Westboro Baptist Church puts a lot of hate into the world," Jackson told HuffPost in an email Friday. "Since we cannot stop them, the next best thing is to smother it with love. That is what 5-year-old Jayden accomplished today! Jayden set up a lemonade stand in front of the church. Not only did she quench the thirst of a lot of loving supporters, the money she raised was donated to Planting Peace so she could help Planting Peace promote a more peaceful world."
“Jayden represents the natural humanity we are born with,” Davis Hammet, Director of Operations at Planting Peace, added. “We come into this world compassionate, caring beings and only become hateful if we are taught to be.”
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By the end of today, the inhabitants of the Westboro Baptist Church compound in Topeka, Kansas, should have a new view out their windows, just past their FAG MARRIAGE DOOMS NATIONS sign: a new gay-rights center across the street, painted in brilliant rainbow colors, with a pride flag flying from a 30-foot flagpole. Right now, a crew of volunteers is at work on the siding of a house opposite the headquarters of the publicity-hunting hate-preacher Fred Phelps.
The center is the work of a roving do-gooder named Aaron Jackson, a 31-year-old community-college dropout whose other projects have included opening orphanages in India and Haiti and buying a thousand acres of endangered rain forest in Peru. This year, his charity, Planting Peace, also intends to de-worm every child in Guatemala. Jackson was drawn to Topeka after reading about Josef Miles, the local boy who last year, at the age of nine, photobombed one of the Westboro protests with a handmade sign that read “God Hates No One.” Jackson had been looking for a way to support equality, anti-bullying programs, and some sort of pro-LGBT initiative, he said.
“I’ve been accused in the past of being all over the place, and they’re probably right on some level,” Jackson told me last night by phone. “Right now we are standing up to bigotry and promoting equality.”
So while considering the Westboro Baptist Church, he began dinking around on Google Maps late one night. He pulled up the church, at 3701 SW 12th St. in Topeka, and took a virtual walk around the block. In the front yard of a house across the street, he noticed a For Sale sign.
“It hit me right away,” Jackson told me last night by phone. “Huh. That would be interesting to own a house across from the Westboro Baptist Church and turn it into something.’ And then, within five seconds: ‘And I’ll paint it the color of the pride flag.’ Perfect.”
The house he’d thought for sale no longer was, but he found another, two doors down, that was still across the street from the Westboro compound. It was listed for something in the $80,000s.
“I find that if you have a hate group in front of your home, that should bring the price of your home down just a little bit,” Jackson said. “Unfortunately the gentleman that was selling the house, he didn’t seem to agree with me.” The guy wouldn’t budge. Jackson was tempted to walk away. “What he did not know,” Jackson said, “where he had me, was I needed this home. I had to have this house. There was no way around it.”
Eventually the guy dropped to 81 and threw in a new roof. Jackson bought it sight unseen, without knowing so much as the number of bedrooms. Turns out there are two bedrooms, one bathroom, a carpeting dining area, two garages (the house sits at a corner), a fireplace, hardwood floors, a small porch, and a decent-sized yard that overlooks the headquarters of an active hate group. “The view is what I bought the home for,” Jackson said. He closed on it about six months ago. In January he and his friend Davis Hammet, a 22-year-old Florida State grad, drove up from Florida overnight to move in. “We thought we were about to become popsicles,” Hammet said. They’ve been hunkering down, waiting for the weather to break, so they could get the house painted.
The plan is to ride the coattails of Westboro’s own media strategy. “We’re going to take the negative attention and try to spin it into something positive,” Hammet said. “Instead of millions of children around the world getting this hate message, they’re going to see this message of compassion and love.”
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BY MATTHEW ORTILE
Photo by Rachel Garbade
TW: gay slur; slurs
On February 12, the Westboro Baptist Church announced it would protest Vassar College, a liberal arts college in upstate New York, but better known to Fred Phelps and his family as an “Ivy League Whorehouse” home to “doomed American academics” who “promote the fag agenda with all their might.” Since Westboro isn’t exactly inconspicuous and announced their visit way in advance, Vassar and the surrounding community were able to mobilize in preparation for the big day.
Full disclosure: I’m currently a junior at Vassar and wear my #VCpride on my sleeve. While Westboro gave too much credit—we’re not an official Ivy nor have I ever had a Yale boyfriend—their bit about “the fag agenda” is 100 percent true.
The most headline-worthy effort last month was Vassar alumnus Josh de Leeuw’s Crowdrise.com fundraiser which promised to donate $100 to The Trevor Project for every minute Westboro would protest, a scheduled 45 minutes at 1:45pm on February 28 (after protesting a memorial service at the United States Military Academy at West Point a short drive away). The fundraiser sped past the goal of $4,500 and now clocks in at over $100,000 thanks to Vassar students, faculty, families, and supporters. All sorts of pride, Vassar and otherwise, were seen all over the nation. Alums everywhere were sounding the horns of battle: Andy Towle of Towleroad and Alice Walton of Forbes wrote and displayed their colors proudly, and Meghan Daum of the Los Angeles Times said, “Though I fear that the college is essentially functioning as a Westboro publicity machine, I also know that the excellent tactic of just ignoring the church would simply never hold up at a place like Vassar.”
And certainly, the campus was doing anything but ignoring the impending Westboro protest. Student group Do Something VC took the lead in harnessing the Westboro-Vassar publicity and fundraised for local causes. Shirts saying “Love Conquers All” in grey and pink, Vassar’s school colors, were being given away with every donation to support the Hudson Valley chapter of GLSEN and the Ali Forney Center in New York City. On the day of Westboro’s protest, Do Something VC executed a counter-protest and rally that included musical performances, a human chain around the Main Building, and several speakers who addressed cheering crowds. The keynote speaker was Vassar alum Pastor Joseph Tolton who told the college community and all those participating physically and emotionally, “Be strong in the face of adversity. You are not second-class citizens. Your sexuality and your gender identity are not burdens—they are blessings.”
As for the actual presence of the Westboro Baptist Church, they materialized as four individuals with signs saying, “USA’s doom,” “Soldiers die 4 fag marriage,” and of course, “God hates fags.” Westboro’s welcome wagon was the counter-protest comprised of at least 600 Vassar community members and supporters from all over the Hudson Valley, including neighboring colleges such as Marist College, SUNY New Paltz, and West Point. Westboro left earlier than intended, at approximately 2:20 p.m. Alison Ehrlich, Vassar’s sophomore class president and fundraising/alumni outreach facilitator for Do Something VC, could not have been a prouder Vassar girl that day. “There was this kind of energy all around campus,” she said, “that something big was happening, something exciting.” And Vassar’s student body president Jason Rubin said, “The day was really about us and our community and we didn’t let Westboro take that away from us.”
But the campus was not without its dissenters. Some students spoke critically of the direction the college and its administration took in addressing Westboro. Concern was raised in the misguided pride in the “whorehouse label” and others asked, “Why now, and why this cause?” — especially when Vassar students are championing at least 50 other causes at any given time. Dissatisfied with the purported theme of “us not them,” Vassar sophomore Genesis Hernandez said, “The minute that Westboro was present, students left to go and gander, even though students were still speaking at the counter-protest.” As for Vassar’s new identity as the “Ivy League Whorehouse,” Rubin recognizes the problematic semiotics. “While I understand the desire to reappropriate the insult into something humorous or empowering,” said Rubin, “it’s important to recognize the way the term makes people on campus feel uncomfortable and oppressed. It’s an example of something our campus needs to think critically about how we define who we are.”
While morale and pride definitely stemmed from fighting Westboro and their hate-speech, Ehrlich insists support mainly grew out of a more positive commonality: love and inclusion. “Vassar itself gets very divided at times with different issues happening on campus or in the world,” she says. “But Westboro gave the Vassar and regional community the opportunity to come together to celebrate values that we all share.” And that same night, beloved NYC drag rapper and Out100 lister Mykki Blanco performed to a packed crowd at Vassar. Serendipitously, it was a positive day for human rights on a national level as well: on February 28, the Obama administration asked the Supreme Court to declare that it was unconstitutional for California to pass an amendment in 2008 excluding same-sex couples from marriage.
While Westboro and their antics look like they won’t stop anytime soon, Vassar — and this proud Vassar boy included — hopes Westboro can continue to serve as a catalyst for a strong and positive counter-response benefiting others, reaffirming the truth that love really does conquer all.
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He said: ‘I can’t speak for the fans, I can only speak for myself, but in this garage, if you can win, people will want to be a part of what you can do.’
Fred Phelps Jr, son of the pastor who heads the ‘God Hates Fags’ US church, tweeted: ‘Who new (sic) NASCAR race car was a fag car #godhatesfagsdotcom!’ Margie Phelps, another member, said: ‘Whew @Noble_Jim @dustinlong -looks like we scheduled @NASCAR @keselowski picket just in time! New sign: NASCAR
It is unknown when the WBC will be picketing, but is likely to happen when the Spring Cup comes to the church’s home state of Kansas on 21 April. Michael Myers, who runs Queers4Gears, told OutSports: ‘I guess when the Westboro Baptist Church has a problem with what I’ve been doing at Queers4Gears then I know I’ve been doing something right. I think the WBC is operating under a false pretence if they think their brand of hate-faith would be accepted at a NASCAR race.’
Recently, two daughters of lead group figure Shirley Phelps quit the WBC and apologized for their actions. Last year, Kaselowski wrote on Twitter: ‘Understand the constitutional rights allowing some1 2 protest a funeral & feel their should b another allowing them to be punched in the face.’
Evan Darling was for a short while the only openly gay NASCAR driver. But when he came out in 2007, sponsorship quickly dried up and he was forced to quit professional racing.
The North Carolina General Assembly has given final approval to a measure that would impose stronger criminal penalties for people who disrupt funerals or memorial services.
The measure comes in response to the anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church, known for protesting at soldiers’ funerals, claiming their deaths are God’s punishment for American immorality and tolerance of homosexuality and abortion. The measure requires protesters to stay farther away from mourners and for a longer period of time before and after funeral events than current law. Violations would result in a higher grade misdemeanor and a felony on a second offense. The Senate passed the bill unanimously, two weeks after the House did by a similar margin.
Based in Topeka, Kan., the Westboro church is not affiliated with the Baptist denomination or any other Baptist church. According to news reports, almost all of its members — fewer than 100 — are related to founder Fred Phelps either by blood or marriage. The group first came into the national spotlight in 1998, when it picketed at the funeral of Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old gay man who was brutally attacked on the night of October 6, 1998, then tied to a fence and left to die.
The bill now heads to Gov. Pat McCrory for his signature.
Shirley Phelps-Roper, daughter of the Westboro Baptist Church founder, has responded to news that her daughters have defected from the hate-mongering, quasi-religious organization. She said on Thursday that “the New Testament is full of people that started right, but then fell away.” Jeremy Hooper from Good As You, a gay rights blog, reached out to Phelps-Roper for a comment about her daughters Megan and Grace defecting from the Westboro Baptist Church this week. Megan and Grace announced their decision Wednesday in an online statement, in which they expressed regret for hurting so many people.
We have no say on who is appointed to mercy and no say on who is appointed to wrath. All I have is a lively hope, and an urgency every day to seek tokens that my own calling in election is sure. You see my young, rebellious friend, I am no different than any other human in that I am full of sin and without a single merit of my own. BUT, if God would have mercy upon me, I have everything. It is all I care about, and all that I live for. There is nothing in this life worth having or doing except to serve my King, and to pray that his will be done and to ask that I be MADE and FOUND worthy to escape the affliction that is coming on the whole earth and that I be made and found worthy to stand before my Lord.
Megan and Grace are not the only two Phelps children to leave Westboro. Most notable, Shirley’s son Josh left in 2003, and Libby Phelps Alvarez, another grandchild of founder Fred Phelps, left in 2009. Fred Phelphs’ son Nate, now in his 50s, departed the organization when he was 18 years old. Still, dozens of family members maintain ties with the WBC. The group spawns hate and controversy by protesting funerals of military officials, shooting victims and entertainers. The group permeated the mainstream media in 1998, when members picketed the funeral of Matthew Shepard, a Wyoming man who was murdered because he was gay, notes NPR.
"Our job is laid out," Phelps-Roper told NPR last year. "We are supposed to blind their eyes, stop up their ears and harden their hearts so that they cannot see, hear or understand, and be converted and receive salvation."
Fred Phelps, now 83, is a former civil rights lawyer (he was disbarred in 1979, according to Kansas newspaper Tulsa World) and has dedicated himself to Westboro Baptist Church, which is congregated by members of his extensive family — 13 children, 56 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren. They all live together on or near a compound in Topeka. Fred explained the WBC’s mission to Tulsa World, saying,
"The homosexuals have taken over this country, lock, stock and barrel, and I’m preaching about it because of Leviticus 18:22: ‘Thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind. It is abomination.’… Twelve little words that would fix this miserable, doomed country." Adding, "And that’s my job, to preach it. The preachers in this country used to all preach it just like I preach it… I’m getting very lonely now, because they’ve disappeared."
Most cannot understand the motives behind such vitriolic messages. A petition on the White House’s open online petition forum, We The People, currently has over 334,000 signatures demanding the government classify Westboro as a hate group.
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tw: gay slurs, racism, heterosexism, WBC
Everything that Megan Phelps-Roper was taught to believe as part of the family running the Westboro Baptist Church began to unravel because of a thoughtful comment made by an outsider.
In an interview with author Jeff Chu, Phelps-Roper recounts how a point made to her by Jewliciousblogger David Abitbol struck with the fierceness of epiphany, and then it gave birth to more and more questions about what she’d been taught to believe, as a granddaughter to the infamous Fred Phelps.
"One day, he asked a specific question about one of our signs — ‘Death Penalty for Fags’ — and I was arguing for the church’s position, that it was a Levitical punishment and as completely appropriate now as it was then," she told Chu of the conversation. “He said, ‘But Jesus said’ — and I thought it was funny he was quoting Jesus — ‘Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.’ And then he connected it to another member of the church who had done something that, according to the Old Testament, was also punishable by death. I realized that if the death penalty was instituted for any sin, you completely cut off the opportunity to repent. And that’s what Jesus was talking about.”
Phelps Roper and her sister Grace say they left the church in November and are now considered “betrayers” by their family. They issued a lengthy statement Wednesday, headlined “Head Full of Doubt / Road Full of Promise,” to the world apologizing for what they had done.
"We know that we’ve done and said things that hurt people," they wrote. "Inflicting pain on others wasn’t the goal, but it was one of the outcomes. We wish it weren’t so, and regret that hurt."
They’re clearly worried about adding hurt to what’s already been done, but this time to their family. Still, they are pressing on, trying new things, like sushi, and attending a church that doesn’t require women to cover their heads.
"We know that we can’t undo our whole lives," they wrote. "We can’t even say we’d want to if we could; we are who we are because of all the experiences that brought us to this point. What we can do is try to find a better way to live from here on."
Don’t assume too much, though. The two aren’t now saying that being gay isn’t a sin. But they appear sure that Westboro was wrong in saying gay people should be killed or can’t be forgiven. And more revelations, of a kind, could be coming, because Megan Phelps-Roper told Chu, “I don’t feel confident at all in my beliefs about God. That’s definitely scary. But I don’t believe anymore that God hates almost all of mankind.”