Hundreds of counter protesters came out in full force at different locations around Greensboro and High Point today to protest members of a homophobic hate group.
The Westboro Baptist Church, a primitive Baptist church based out of Kansas that is known for its hateful rhetoric against the LGBTQ+ community, stopped at a local high school, a college and a university on Monday morning as part of their national public preaching tour. And despite drawing large numbers of counter protesters at each location, only three members of the church were represented.
The first event at High Point Central High School drew what looked to be the most visitors. As students walked across the school’s front lawn on their way to class early in the morning, hundreds of counter protesters, clad in colorful attire and holding umbrellas, lined the edge of campus. Close to forty-five police officers patrolled the area close to where the three members stood in a fenced off area on a median. Each held signs that read “God is your enemy” and “Mourn for your sins.”
Leading the brigade of umbrella-wielding advocates was Pasha Eve, co-founder of the Parasol Patrol, based out of Denver, Co. She and the other co-founder, Eli Bazan, flew to Greensboro on Sunday in preparation for Monday’s events. The two attended all three protests.
According to Eve, the organization which operates under another nonprofit was started after Bazan took it upon himself to shield kids from protesters at a drag storytime event that took place in Denver last March. To drown out the noise and visibility of those holding hateful signs and spewing vicious comments, Bazan, who identifies as queer, bought large umbrellas and ear protection to help kids get from the parking lot to the bookstore safely, with as little interaction with the protesters as possible.
Since then, the group has attended multiple events to help shield children and young adults from anti-LGBTQ+ protesters. This is the fourth time the organization has attended an event to counter protest Westboro.
“The community here is so positive and so strong and so proactive about supporting the youth,” said Pasha in a phone interview a few days before the protest. “It’s been an outpouring from the LGBTQ+ community and allies.”
While many adults held umbrellas to shield the three individuals from Westboro out of sight from the school, a group of students gathered on the lawn and chanted their school slogan.
“We are the bison!” shouted the students. “The mighty, mighty bison!”
Jalyn Townsend, a senior at the high school said he was compelled to counter protest to show the strength of younger generations.
“I don’t understand why grown adults would come out and protest against kids,” he said. “I think everybody has the right to love who they love.”
In addition to students and allies, teachers, school administrators and superintendent Sharon Contreras attended the protest.
“Even though they are being exposed to this hate early in the morning, we wanted to let the students know that the school district, administration and the school board support them,” said Contreras at an on-site press conference.
After protesting at the high school for about 45 minutes, the three individuals — one younger man, one younger woman and one older woman — traveled by van to Guilford College where they were met with more counter protesters.
Betsy Seaton and Katie Leonard, two Guilford College employees, bundled up and stood at the corner of Friendly and New Garden Rd. where about 200 counter protesters awaited the members of Westboro to arrive.
“It goes against all seven pillars that Guilford stands for,” Leonard said.
Carrying a large rainbow flag tied to a wooden staff, Guilford College sophomore Cierra Blowe walked up and down the line of counter protesters to show support.
“I’m a lesbian and I won’t let anybody discriminate against us,” Blowe said. “I love my people.”
Across the street, the Westboro members held their signs and played popular songs like Macklemore’s “Same Love” and Queen’s “We Will Rock You” with changed lyrics. The counter protesters attempted to drown out the music by singing lyrics from “Amazing Grace.”
Laura Maisel who followed the group to all three locations said that she decided to counter protest to show support for her friends who identify as LGBTQ+.
“The idea of the vitriol being spewed at students makes my blood boil,” Maisel said as she crossed the street towards UNCG, the final stop on Westboro’s tour in the Triad.
Again, hundreds of students, faculty and activists gathered at the entrance to the university’s campus on Spring Garden Street and held umbrellas, signs and passed out snacks as they protested the group.
This event, while it was the last one, proved to be the most vibrant, with students leading chant after chant while a small band blared notes from brass instruments.
“Hey hey, ho, ho, Westboro church has got to go,” chanted students at the members across the street.
Josh Gore, a local bartender and founder of an inclusive art collective, helped organize some of the activity at the final stop. In an interview, Gore said that while it’s important to show up for LGBTQ+ rights, his main goal on Monday was to make sure that none of the counter protesters engaged with those from the church.
“The way that Westboro funds their travels is by lawsuits from people,” Gore explained. “A lot of them are lawyers. They thrive off of these lawsuits.”
Instead, he hoped to lead a vibrant party that made the group seem insignificant.
“The biggest focus that I’ve had personally is that they’re irrelevant,” he said.
And it seemed to have worked.
Even as the three members left after protesting for about half an hour and rain started to sprinkle, the counter protesters remained in high spirits, chanting goodbyes at the members while the band played notes from “Baby Shark.”
As police announced that the hate group had packed up and left to get to their next stop at Duke University, the group broke out into a single message.
“We’re here, we’re queer, we won’t disappear.”