Hundreds counter-protest Westboro Baptist Church
Students, staff show support for transgender rights
In a week full of tension on campus, students and faculty came together in solidarity against members of the Westboro Baptist Church, who picketed outside of the University on Friday afternoon.
As the sun began to set, between 500 and 800 students and supporters gathered along Massachusetts Avenue to rally against the ultra-conservative church group, whose members came to protest the resources the University offers to transgender students.
Westboro Baptist Church is based out of Topeka, Kansas, and is known nationwide for its hate speech and protests against LGBTQ, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, political and Orthodox Christian communities.
University police were present to keep students safe and prevent them from infringing on the rights of WBC members to protest. Approximately 25 faculty members were also adorned with red safety vests to keep students on University property, Senior Director of Student Activities Michael Elmore said.
“We just want people to be as safe as possible, so [the red vests] are just simply a measure to identify who’s out here to support students and to try to work to make sure everything goes out safely,” Public Relations Manager Rebecca Basu, who was one of the faculty in a vest, said.
Three members of WBC attended the protest and sang popular songs replaced with hateful lyrics. But their songs were drowned out by the chants of students saying “Love trumps hate!” and “Trans lives matter!” Students shouted out cries of goodbye and cheering commenced when the WBC members were escorted down Massachusetts Avenue at 4:30 p.m.
“[Transgender rights] is such a prevalent issue nowadays and I feel like if I don’t do anything and just stand back they would have more of a reason to shout out what they’re shouting out… it’s standing in solidarity with the people we appreciate — our class members, our peers, our student body,” Abrar Rahman, a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences, said.
Not all students found this rally to be a productive use of time however.
“The fact that we keep giving people like this attention keeps them going,” sophomore Joshua Kerobo said. “Like if we had just stopped and people leave… it would have already been done, it would have already been over. They would have just stood there and been gone, they would have been singing to themselves and then they would have left.”
Caution tape kept students on University property, but that didn’t stop students from holding signs of LGBTQ support. As rush hour traffic began to roll by, cars honked their horns and chanted support for counter-protesters.
“Here at American University, everyone is a part of the community no matter how you identity, no matter what you choose, no matter how you want to be seen,” Kendall Lawrenz, a senior in the School of Public Affairs, said. “We choose to see people the way they would see themselves, and I think it’s important to honor that. I think a group that comes here and tells us how we should see other people has no place in America, has no place at American University.”