The Westboro Baptist Church announced last weekend that it will picket outside the front gates of Georgetown University next Monday, prompting students to organize two counterprotests in response to the church’s controversial views.
The WBC, which is categorized as a hate group by the Anti-Defamation League of America, has regularly conducted anti-gay protests and picketed military funerals, among other controversial acts, since 1991. The church will be picketing at Georgetown as part of its D.C. tour, during which it will also picket at the White House, the Supreme Court and the Pentagon.
In a campus-wide email sent by Vice President for Mission and Ministry Fr. Kevin O’Brien, S.J., and Vice President for Student Affairs Todd Olson, the administrators confirmed that the WBC has received a city permit from the Metropolitan Police to picket in the public space outside of the main gates from 4 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Monday.
According to the WBC’s website, church members decided to organize the protest on the basis of Georgetown’s acceptance of LGBTQ students.
“WBC will picket Georgetown University in religious protest and warning: God is not mocked,” the website read. “All people affiliated with the universities of this nation have given themselves to the f – – agenda.
In particular, the WBC cited the LGBTQ Resource Center’s hosting of “OUTober,” a month honoring LGBTQ history and progress, and a quote from former Georgetown University Student Association President Nate Tisa (SFS ’14) that reads, “Society is changing and God is in that change.” The quote originally appeared in a column written by Tisa for The Hoya in October 2012 prior to his term as GUSA president. The quote was later reprinted in an article by The New York Times, which was referenced by the WBC.
“I would have been less brazen about being a target of their attacks as a 15-year-old in the closet,” Tisa wrote in an email to The Hoya. “For those who lack family and community support, live in areas that share some level of anti-gay sentiment or are struggling with their sexuality, this hate speech cuts deep.”
Tisa said that he will be participating in the counter-protests on Monday to demonstrate his solidarity with Georgetown students against the WBC’s message.
“As a Georgetown alumnus I am proud to be part of a community that stands in solidarity against this message of hate. I really hope we use next Monday’s protest as a force for positive change beyond this group’s half hour of fame,” Tisa said. “I will be joining other Hoyas at the front gates on Monday and hope others will join me in donating to groups [supporting LGBTQ youth].”
In their email, O’Brien and Olson wrote that Georgetown maintains a religious tradition of respect for all individuals and does not condone the views of the WBC.
“We realize that their presence near our campus could be upsetting. At Georgetown, we are deeply proud of our religious tradition and recognize the inherent human dignity of every member of our community,” O’Brien and Olson wrote. “As an institution that values inter-religious understanding, inclusion and respect for all persons, we find the viewpoints of this group offensive, degrading and hateful.”
Several students have begun organizing counter-protests in response to the WBC’s plans for next Monday. In 2011, a group of Georgetown students attended a counter-protest at American University when the WBC picketed at the university.
GU Pride planned a solidarity event, which will take place at Red Square on Monday. 892 people have responded to the Facebook page of the event at press time.
The solidarity event will consist of a prayer led by Fr. Raymond Kemp, as well as activities with other student groups such as cultural and campus ministry groups. Signs will also be distributed for students to use at the Supreme Court the following day, where the WBC will hold another protest expressing their views against gay marriage.
GU Pride President Campbell James (SFS ’17) said that he hopes the solidarity event will demonstrate to the WBC that Georgetown not only accepts, but values diversity.
“GU Pride hopes to counter the hate speech from the WBC by creating an environment where all Hoyas can be celebrated for their diverse backgrounds,” James said. “We want to show the WBC that Georgetown students do not tolerate attacks on any of their students.”
Breanne Kincaid (COL ’16) is also planning a counter-protest at the main gates where the WBC members will be picketing. Although the counter-protest is not organized in affiliation with any student groups, Kincaid has received support from individual students willing to help her with the counter-protest. At press time, 660 people RSVPed to the Facebook page of the event.
Like James, Kincaid said that she would like the counter-protest to dwarf the WBC’s protest.
“I want to overpower the WBC with our sheer numbers,” she said. “I want to be more vocal, more passionate and so overwhelming in our presence that the WBC can’t help but see that they are fighting a losing battle by protesting against human rights on our campus.”
Kincaid said that she plans on silencing the WBC at the protest by using loudspeakers and megaphones.
“If everything falls in the right place these next few days, I should be able to get loudspeakers and megaphones so that the air is so saturated by our message, the WBC can’t get a word in,” Kincaid said.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly included “S.J.” as Fr. Raymond Kemp’s post-nominal title. He is not a member of the Society of Jesus.
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