The other day, I went to a counter-rally which was protesting a Westboro Baptist Church protest. For those who are not familiar with WBC, they are a family led by Fred Phelps who regularly advocate absolutely horrifying ideas about God. According to Wikipedia , they usually protest about 6 times a day at locations around the country. Essentially, anything bad that happens anywhere is considered to be God’s judgment for “letting” gays live openly and act as citizens—they protest at soldiers’ funerals (with signs like “Thank God for IEDs” and “Thank God for 9/11”) and the Holocaust Museum (“Rabbis rape kids”), for example.

Horrifically, they even decided to protest at the funeral of the 9 year-old girl who was killed at the Tucson, Arizona shooting of Sen. Giffords. Thankfully, Arizona quickly passed restrictions on protests at funerals (which is currently being challenged in court), and the WBC was persuaded by some DJs not to protest in exchange for getting their message out on the radio.

Many people are understandably upset with the WBC and its message of hate, and at many of its protests, angry passerbys and numerous counter-protesters have confronted the WBC protestors. But is it a good idea?

Here’s what the WBC spokesperson Sherly Phelps-Roger said to TBD.com about counter-protests:

“Tee hee! We LOVE THEM! When you are delivering a message to people, it makes it easier to deliver the message when people see the signs. So counter protesters have an opportunity to ask questions, and engage in discussion.”

Was my going to the protest appropriate? Or did it just help the WBC get their message out there? Here’s how I saw it:

1. The WBC was going to be there, and was going to get the media attention regardless of what we did in response.

Due to their inflammatory rhetoric, the WBC gets noticed wherever they go, so a counter-protest is unlikely to bring the spotlight to them anymore than they already would anyway. What’s a more positive headline, though? “Westboro Baptist Church protests at campus” or “Fighting hate with blackout poetry”?

2. An organized counter-rally is better than unorganized anger.

One of the most common responses to the WBC is yelling. I understand yelling: these are despicable people, doing despicable things. However, what benefit does yelling actually have, besides making yourself feel better? Phelps-Roger also told TBD.com that:

“We have gone into many places and they send their children out like attack dogs. At this hour, the nation is clear that when we go out, the mob comes out.”

In other words, they like the upset, angry, and untrained counter-protestors who simply spew vitriol at the WBC, making the WBC look almost reasonable in contrast. With an organized, calm counter-protest, a lot of the anger and upset can be channeled into a far more positive outlet, which certainly will not change the WBC protestors’ minds but is still a worthwhile demonstration of support for everything WBC vilifies.

Am I right, though? Did our counter-rally actually doing anything worthwhile, or did we just play right into the hands of the WBC? And here’s the biggest question: did we simply legitimize the WBC?

That is what I am most afraid of: that somehow, by my actions, I actually aided and abetted the WBC’s hate campaign. However, that brings me to the most important reason I went to the counter-rally:

3. It is never ok to stay quiet when hate is being perpetuated.

Certainly, it does not seem that the WBC will persuade many people with their sheer hate, but they are simply one small part of a much larger problem. Standing up to them is easy: they generally are repulsive to even those who might agree with their basic anti-gay rhetoric.

Standing up to the more subtle kinds of hate is hard: a gay slur used in casual conversation (“dude, you’re such a…”—if you’re under 25, you filled in the blank automatically, I’m sure), a derogative comment about how something is “so gay,” and so forth.

That is the real challenge for a decent person: to force yourself not to just let those little things slide.

-The Girlfriend

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