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Monday, February 6, 2023

Campus

LGBTQ students, allies gather to counter-protest Westboro Baptist Church


LGBTQ students and allies said they were prepared to combat hate with love as they stood in opposition of the Westboro Baptist Church’s anti-transgender protest Friday afternoon in front of the Campus Recreational and Wellness Center.

Representatives from the Kansas-based group were on campus to picket the Gender Infinity conference.

“This is our first time encountering Westboro so we don’t really know what to expect, but we do know how we’re going to react: peacefully, nonviolently,” Graduate Juan Flores said. “Just share the love, that’s it.”

‘They have risen’

Flores’ message was shared among the line of counter-protesters that spanned from the intersection of University Drive and Wheeler Avenue to the front steps of Student Center South. Many thought that peaceful protesting and the shared love for people of all beliefs and backgrounds would overwhelm the opposition.

Members of the group Students for a Democratic Society, who planned their own Black Lives Matter march on Friday, eventually joined the counter-protest.

Westboro’s goal in visiting UH was to “preach to a generation that has forgotten God,” said the church’s own Timothy Phelps. The transgender movement, he said, is “the most recent explosion of filthiness.”

“We have a simple mandate from the Creator: preach the word,” Phelps said. “In season, when it might be popular and out of season when it’s not popular.”

Shirley Phelps-Roper, a spokesperson and leader for Westboro, said she hoped to “warn the living.”

“They have risen,” Phelps-Roper said of the transgender community. “We have to speak to them where they live and this is where they live.”

Above the anger

While not all students who make up the counter-protest supported the LGBTQ community, all were opposed to Westboro’s presence on campus.

The Catholic Student Association came out to protest even though the group’s own beliefs do not directly agree with those of the Gender Infinity conference.

Rev. Troy Treash of the Resurrection Metropolitan Community Church was the official liaison between the counter-protesters and the Gender Infinity conference. Treash said their hope was to physically prevent Westboro protesters from interacting with conference attendees.

“The future depends on groups like Gender Infinity where diversity is not fearful or scary, but a wonderful part of who we all are,” Treash said. “That’s the future.”

Two of Gender Infinity co-founders, Becca and Colt Keo-Meier, are UH-affiliated. On its website, Gender Infinity aims to make the world welcoming and safe for all youth regardless of gender expression or identity.

The conference will continue in the Student Centers North and South through Saturday afternoon.

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