Westboro Baptist Church protest at SM East

Annalissa Houser and Erin Albers

On the morning of Jan. 19, members of the Westboro Baptist Church packed up their “God hates fags” signs and headed out to SM East to protest against LGBTQ+ students.  Dozens of SM students locked arms across the street from the church members, signs in hand as the sun rose in the background.

Not all of the anti-protestors were students, though. Community member Karen Nixon woke up bright and early to show her support for the students living around her.

“I was shocked to find out that these people go around and hate people for who they love,” Nixon said. “I don’t understand them. Love is love, and I just want to support that.”

The Westboro Baptist Church is a religious organization known for its relentless hate speech, primarily against the LGBTQ+ population. The group was founded by Fred Phelps and is based out of Topeka, Kan.

One of the many students lined up against the protest was junior Cody Andrews. As soon as Andrews reached his position at the opposite side of the street, he unfolded his pride flag and stood in protest, voicing his blunt opinion of the church.

“I just think that they’re super negative and have no clue what’s going on,” Andrews said. “They don’t do anything except cause problems.”

This was Andrew’s first encounter with the Westboro Church, but junior Riley Demo has a different story. She came in protest because of a past experience with the church’s members at her parents’ wedding.

“My parents are both Episcopalian priests, and in some Baptist communities, priests aren’t allowed to be women or get married,” Demo said. “They stood outside the wedding while it was going on. It was still a very happy day for my parents, but that’s a terrible thing to happen.”

As the sun rose fully into the sky, the protestors packed up their signs and departed for Topeka. At the edge of the sidewalk, students in anti-protest stood waiting for the street light to change to cross the street and Nixon spoke a final reminder, “Love is the answer. Love is what we need.”