Westboro Baptist Church, the Kansas-based organization best known for anti-gay picketing at military funerals, has chosen a new target: Wilson High School in Northwest Washington, where students are holding a Pride Day next month.
The second annual lunchtime festival will bring together more than 20 community organizations and government agencies that offer support and services for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth. Last year, students signed pledges to respect their LGBTQ colleagues, and Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) showed up to demonstrate his support.
“The message of Pride Day is that as a public school in our Nation’s Capitol, we support LGBTQ+ students, and we are committed to making our school and our Capitol a safer and more welcoming space for everyone,” says 15-year-old sophomore Neilah Rovinsky.
Westboro — “arguably the most obnoxious and rabid hate group in America,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center — clearly sees Wilson’s efforts differently.
“You should be hanging your heads in shame for such a thing,” reads the Westboro Web site, announcing plans to protest June 9 at Wilson and many other Washington institutions — including the Supreme Court, the White House and Congress — that the church believes have been too supportive of gay marriage.
The announcement triggered an immediate reaction from students, who took to social media to begin organizing a peaceful counterprotest. Rovinsky said that it’s been heartening to see her school come together in support of a common cause.
“The fact that Westboro has targeted a high school where many kids struggle with understanding their sexuality and may take these crazy extremist comments to heart seems outrageous to me,” she wrote in an e-mail. “However, I do know that as a school community, we will stand up for all of our students ... Westboro has decided to go against the wrong school and the wrong city this time.”
Biology teacher Chris Obermeyer, one of three faculty sponsors of the school’s Gay Straight Alliance, said he’s thrilled to see students take the lead in advocating for themselves and hopes whatever publicity comes of it helps spur students elsewhere to take action.
“Hopefully, we’ll see more schools do pride days,” he said.