From how it played out on the street and screen, you might think students were having fun. They smiled and laughed with witty signs, ridiculing the protestors just outside the gates. Dozens of students asked them questions, taking glee in the studied idiocy they received in return. The scene was set to drowningly loud pop as sugary as candy.
When I found out, I thought it would be fun, too. I might scrawl something clever on a sign. I might carefully position myself in front of the protestors, put on a shirt (or none at all) that unambiguously signaled my sexuality, and snap the photo that would likely constitute the high point of my year on social media. If I was feeling particularly plucky, I thought, I might try to convince a boy that the correct approach to protest was an aggressively public display of affection. What better way, after all, to assert oneself over and against a gaggle of celebrity bigots?
One friend described counter protesting the Westboro Baptist Church as an American tradition. Another wrote that folks should have a “gay old time.” In one class, we discussed their business model — interesting stuff, I figured. And I imagined the whole affair along the same lines: as a social phenomenon, a welcome coda to an academic year, an initiation into American queerdom. I even knew the time and the place — the front gates, from 4 to 4:30 p.m.
But that plan unraveled quickly.
For one, I forgot the shirt I had thought I’d wear. In fact, I overslept the morning of the protest and, even if what I put on instead no doubt revealed what team I play for, I had entirely forgotten that people screaming and toting signs explaining that my Muslim peers and I doomed the nation planned a trip that afternoon. Aloof, I hurried to French, from my house by Saxby’s towards the front gates. It wasn’t even noon, but there they were. No music was playing yet. There were just a few students talking to them, reading their signs.
I just spent 300 words telling you how I thought it would feel when I saw them. I can tell you how it did feel in just two: it hurt.
It just hurt. I wasn’t happy. I didn’t laugh. I didn’t carry a sign with me. I didn’t think about how absurd these people looked or acted — people there to wound me. Instead, I seized up. I looked around, then down. I pushed through the gates. I thought I was going to cry, walking past administrators watching bird-like from the edges. I didn’t take any photos. I didn’t post anything online. I got to class and fumbled the obligatory “fine” after my professor asked how I was.
Here, the structure of a good opinion piece demands that I wheel around to discover the lesson. Perhaps I’m meant to comment on the relative merits of the solidarity event put on by GU Pride versus the counter protest. Or, perhaps it would be better for me to comment that the many students who stopped their day to confront a group of irrelevants with signs would do better by themselves and Georgetown’s queer students to devote the same outrage to the daily injustices faced by transgender and queer students, students of color and students with disabilities. Maybe it demands that I use this space to deliver the message to President DeGioia and Dr. Olson that, despite what they posted online Monday, many of their choices and words have made life for marginalized students at Georgetown more difficult, not less. Or maybe instead I should write about the privilege associated with enjoying the presence of a group like the Westboro Baptist Church on the Hilltop.
Each of those things is true. But they’re not the heart of the thing. The key is this: hatred —hurled by history, administrators, policies or people with signs, whether subtle or in your face, whether purposeful or subliminal in the slights it inflicts — hurts. Often, that should inspire more solidarity than it does.
Matthew Quallen is a junior in the School of Foreign Service.
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