By MaryKent Wolff
UNC-Greensboro (UNCG) students, alumni and faculty, as well as various other community members, filled the sidewalk on the morning of Nov. 18, 2019, as they participated in a counter-protest against a protest from Westboro Baptist Church.
While Westboro Baptist Church’s protest took place from 10:20 am to 10:50 am, the counter-protest continued after they had left, lasting until close to 11:00 am. The protests took place on the sidewalks surrounding the intersection of Spring Garden Street and Josephine Boyd Street. Three members of Westboro Baptist Church stood in front of Walgreens while the three other corners were taken up by over 100 counter-protesters, all as it sprinkled rain.
“God doesn’t just hate the sin, but He also hates the sinner, as these Bible verses demonstrate,” says the Westboro Baptist Church website under its Doctrines tab. “The Bible is clear that homosexuality is a sin in the eyes of God. It’s not OK to be gay.”
The stop at UNC-Greensboro was one of many made in North Carolina, including Guilford College and Duke University.
“This event is taking place in a public space, not subject to permits or processes associated with UNCG and is allowed and protected by very clear law associated with freedom of speech,” wrote UNCG Chancellor Franklin D. Gilliam, Jr in a statement released to members of the UNCG community. “I want all of you to know that the beliefs espoused by this group run counter to our established values of diversity and inclusion. I do not agree with nor support any of the views expressed by this group.”
Upon arrival at the site, counter-protests were warned to keep from berating the three Westboro Baptist Church members. Police services were used to keep the two sides from fighting and to maintain safety as the number of people often left little room on the sidewalks.
Many attendees of the counter-protest arrived with signs that spoke against the beliefs of the original protestors. Others wore flags representing parts of the LGBTQIA community, as well as outfits or makeup often associated with pride days or festivals.
“I’ve got candy to pass around because why not—it’s a miniature pride anyway,” said Indigo Orlando, a student at UNCG. “[Being here] helps show that there’s a large supportive community here at UNC-‘Gay,’ as we’re very well known.”
Along with signs and petitions, chants were often used as a deterrent and cheers broke out each time a passing car honked in support. Instruments were also used by students studying music as a way to protest, as songs such as “Baby Shark” and “This Little Light of Mine” were played.
“We decided we were going to come out and play. That was just about it,” said Brian Arden, a UNCG senior and member of the Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia (PMA). “We sent a text in our group message and were like, ‘hey, who wants to go play?’ so all these guys from PMA showed up.”
Westboro Baptist Church is an American church founded and based in Kansas. It has 70 members and is well known for its protesting activities and religions views.
“My question is, why would you want to be part of something like that?” said Jared Johnson, a sophomore studying Political Science. “What is making you stick with your family that is telling people you should die, and that God hates them?”
Other events took place simultaneously for students who may not have been able to go to the counter-protest. The Jackson Library held a “Love in the Library Event” and another took place in the Stone building.
“I just wanted to come out and show some support. We’re doing an event in the Stone building also for people who don’t want to come out here,” said Melissa Floyd-Pickard, chair of UNCG’s Social Work department.
Many local members of religious communities such as College Place United Methodist Church (UMC) also came to speak out against the messages of Westboro Baptist Church.
“It’s pretty amazing to see this many people from our community who didn’t know each other becoming friends in a common issue against three people who show up to protest, saying a message from God that many of us do not agree with anymore,” said Jason Harvey, Pastor at College Place UMC. “Ultimately, God is a God of love and forgiveness and mercy, so we’re appreciative of that and amazed at God’s creation and who God chooses to create and how God chooses to create them.”
Above all, counter-protestors continued to spread messages of love, support and acceptance.
“I just wanted to let people know that they’re loved. Some of these kids, this is the first time they’ve ever been out,” said Floyd-Pickard. “I don’t want them to see the hate stuff and think that everybody thinks that. People are loved, and I hope they remember.”
Police presence separating the different protests were successful. Due to the barricades put in place by local police, no quotes were gotten from the Westboro Baptist members.