victory for anti-bigotry

Yes it’s been ages since I’ve posted, so to make up for it here are two heart-warming tales of young, decent people standing up against madcap bigotry – in both these cases, against the nastiness that is the Westboro Baptist Church, fronted by Fred Phelps. He has a history of really nasty anti-gay protesting, often outside funerals of US Army victims of war, because apparently America is a hotbed of gayness, and therefore the soldiers deserved it.

Victory number one: The Phelps people were planning to protest outside Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda, Maryland, because apparently Walt Whitman might have been gay or something. But the school had other ideas:

At the 2:10 p.m. dismissal, 500 students issued forth from the campus and lined up, several students deep, along the police tape, across Whittier Boulevard from the congregants. They alternately chanted the school name and “Go home!” — drowning out voices from across the street.

Faculty had spun the event into an interdisciplinary lesson. English teachers spent the day on Whitman’s verse. Social studies teachers led a unit on tolerance. Math teachers fanned through the crowd, attempting a head count.

It was the first taste of protest for many Whitman students, and perhaps the first time they had paid much mind to their namesake.

“This is my school, and this is where I live, and that makes it personal to me,” said Maddie Oliver, 18, a senior. Along with others, she wore a blue T-shirt emblazoned with the Whitman passage “Let your soul stand cool and composed.” Principal Alan Goodwin helped choose the slogan, hoping students would see its wisdom, he said.

Rebekah Phelps-Davis, daughter of Westboro pastor Fred Phelps, said it was “the duty of the servants of God to go where the message needs to be heard.”

Susan Russell, 17, a junior, said she hoped the publicity would “highlight how ridiculous they are. I mean, that sign — ‘You will eat your babies’ — that doesn’t even mean anything.”

Victory number two: the Phelps people protested outside a school in California, where a production of “Rent” was to be staged. Once again, both teachers and students had more enlightened and, frankly, beautiful ideas:

A handful of members of Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas, which is known for its anti-gay protests, vowed to come to the campus to demonstrate against what it saw as the godless enablers of homosexuality. By midday Friday, the protesters had arrived. There were three of them, carrying signs that said, “[Gays] Are Beasts,” among others.

As they gathered on the sidewalk, several students came together in counter-protest on the other side of the street. Within minutes, more than 200 — some wearing rainbow tie-dye shirts and holding peace signs — stood sentry in front of the campus, clutching signs that said, “Support Love,” “God Hates No One” and “Love Is Not a Sin.”

The students turned the protest into a mini-celebration, singing songs from the musical and breaking into the school’s own fight song. A couple ran through the crowd in swim trunks, with the words “God Loves Gays” written across their chests. One was wrapped in a rainbow-colored cloth. Another wore a handmade shirt that read, “Love Is Equal.”

At one point, several students ran across the street to stand near the protesters. They shouted, “God loves gays and lesbians too,” and waved their signs at passing cars. Minutes later, Fred Phelps, pastor of Westboro Baptist Church, and his supporters walked away, taking their signs with them.

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