This article has been updated from its original version on April 27.
In response to two separate protests organized by the Westboro Baptist Church and the Official Street Preachers outside of the university’s front gates today, hundreds of students gathered in a counter-protest at the front gates and in a solidarity event in Red Square.
Two weeks ago, the WBC announced on their website that they would be protesting at Georgetown, citing the university’s acceptance of LGBTQ students.
At approximately 12 p.m., members of the Official Street Preachers, a protest group unaffiliated with the WBC, began protesting at Red Square with inflammatory signs. This protest was unannounced. Georgetown University Police Department officers escorted them to the front gates, where they continued picketing.
GUPD Chief of Police Jay Gruber said that he warned the OPS protesters to leave Red Square as they were trespassing on private property.
“[I] alerted them that the university is private property, and they tried to argue that point, and I just let them know that they could leave and protest outside the main gates or they would be arrested for trespassing, [then] they took the smarter route and went out to the main gates, [which is] public property [and] they had every right to say what they wanted to say,” Gruber said.
Several students who attended the counter-protest exchanged remarks with OSP members, who were barred from the front gates by GUPD officers.
In addition, students held signs of their own in support of the LGBTQ community and played music through loudspeakers to counter the OSP. The OSP members left the front gates at approximately 2:30 p.m.
According to OSP member Ruben Israel, the OSP, who did not announce the protest before today, arrived in Washington, D.C. last Friday to protest against the U.S. Supreme Court’s hearing on same-sex marriage tomorrow.
Israel also said that the protest was not affiliated with the WBC protest later in the day.
Vice President for Mission and Ministry Rev. Kevin O’Brien, S.J., who observed the counter-protest, said that he was pleased with how the students interacted with OSP members.
“I’m very proud of our students who engaged them constructively,” O’Brien said.
At 4 p.m., approximately 10 members of the WBC arrived on the street across from the front gates. More students congregated at the counter-protest, holding signs and shouting chants in opposition to the WBC.
The counter-protest also included faculty members and people outside of the Georgetown community. Some attendees arrived at the protest in costumes.
Associate professor of theater Natsu Onoda Power, who attended the counter-protest with students in her Gender and Performance class, set up a suggestion box for students and faculty to write in comments for the WBC. Power was unsure as to how the suggestions would be given to the WBC.
“A student in the class came up with the idea to not so much do a counter-protest, but [do this] in a peaceful way, not to pick fights, but to try to understand them while expressing our views,” Power said.
Breanne Kincaid (COL ’16), an organizer of the counter-protest, also set up a donation box for the Trevor Project and Casa Ruby LGBT Community Center, two initiatives in support of LGBTQ youth, at the front gates. They received $41 in cash donations in less than one hour.
At one point during the protest, a D.C. Circulator bus blocked the WBC from the students’ view as it was passing the intersection at 37th street, which prompted cheers and applause from students.
GUPD and Metropolitan Police Department officers prevented members of the WBC from crossing the street to the front gates with a metal blockade. The blockade was removed when the WBC members departed at approximately 4:20 p.m.
Gruber said he was satisfied with the outcome of the protest and counter-protest, for which the GUPD, MPD and university administration have been planning over the past week.
“The students got to express their first amendment rights. The protesters had an opportunity to express their first amendment rights. Nobody was injured, traffic flowed normally. So I was happy with the results,” Gruber said.
According to Kincaid, student support for the LGBTQ community dwarfed the WBC protest.
“Hoyas and non-Hoyas came out in droves to show messages of support for the entire LGBTQ community, which is all that I could have asked for,” Kincaid said. “We filled every available space in front of campus with our message of positivity and solidarity.”
Ben Goodfriend (COL ’18), who attended the counter-protest in his underwear, said also that he was pleased the WBC were unable to communicate their message to students.
“[The protest] was very underwhelming. I think the counter-protest completely drowned them out. They really didn’t stand a chance,” Goodfriend said. “I’m just proud that we can all show our support and not let them get to us and infect us. I know that they’re really trying to get to our head, and I know it didn’t work.”
Kincaid said that while she did not expect the WBC to listen to students’ opinions in the counter-protest, she felt that the students effectively demonstrated their support for the Georgetown LGBTQ community.
“Any sort of meaningful dialogue with [the WBC] would fall on deaf ears. However, I think the event was effective in demonstrating overwhelming support for our own LGTBQ Hoyas,” Kincaid said. “I think we made a difference today by showing the world that Hoyas stand up for Hoyas.”
During the protest and counter-protest at the front gates, GUPride hosted a solidarity event at Red Square, where leaders from different student groups and the administration shared their thoughts in solidarity with the LGBTQ community.
The event consisted of speeches and a prayer led by Fr. Raymond Kemp. Additionally, GUPride distributed buttons and materials to create signs.
GUPride President Campbell James (SFS ’17) said that the event brought together different members of the community to back the LGBTQ community.
“It’s been phenomenal seeing the support of everyone. I think it really shows that Georgetown is a large, united community and we all care about each other as students,” James said. “It’s been really humbling to see the support of so many administrators, students and student groups.”
Similarly, GUPride Treasurer Nicholas Werner (MSB ’17) said that they intended for the event to bring the community together, rather than engage members of the WBC directly.
“The WBC is an evil organization that we really can’t combat by directly confronting them. The only response we can actually get is to come together as a community,” Werner said.
Vice President for Student Affairs Todd Olson, who attended the solidarity event, said that he was proud of students’ willingness to express their beliefs in opposition to those of the WBC.
“I had heard from the first announcement that these people were going to be in the neighborhood that I thought our students would stand up and express their views and concerns, and they have,” Olson said.
Protestant Chaplaincy Director Reverend Bryant Oskvig said in a speech that it is important to respond to the WBC in a peaceful manner.
“Darkness doesn’t overcome darkness, light overcomes darkness. Hate doesn’t overcome hate. … [Love] will overcome the darkness in our world, and that’s what makes this beautiful, and that is the witness of our tradition and our faith,” Oskvig said.
After the solidarity event, the Georgetown University Alumni Association, GUPride, Grad Pride and Students of Georgetown, Inc. organized a fundraiser at the Bulldog Tavern in response to the WBC protest, where drinks were sold for donations to the Trevor Project and the Casa Ruby LGBT Community Center.
Former Georgetown University Student Association President Nate Tisa (SFS ’14), who was an organizer of the fundraiser, said that he wanted to leverage the opportunity of the protest to raise funds for a beneficial cause.
“In the face of people who espouse hate at that level and really cannot be reasoned with, there’s no productive dialogue to be had,” Tisa said. “So we’re trying to envision a response that would be productive and positive, be affirming and actually do some good. If they’re going to come to campus and raise this level of negative energy, we might as well use it to produce something positive.”
Hoya Staff Writers Kristen Fedor, Tom Garzillo and Emily Tu contributed to reporting.
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