Picketing Provides Opportunity to Promote Equality



As a Staff, we’ve talked and thought a lot about the Westboro Baptist Church’s upcoming visit to Wilson. We’ve realized that the fastest way to make the WBC go away would be to ignore them. Hateful organizations feed off publicity and attention, so if we simply went about our daily lives every time the WBC picketed a school or a funeral, it’s quite possible that their cult-ish organization’s influence would fade.

But maybe that’s not what we want.

Our country was founded on the principle of free speech, and free speech is what creates change. As Jonathan Rauch pointed out in a November Atlantic editorial, knowledge is born when many opinions are considered and all but the most valid are found wanting. Hate speech, when contrasted with reasonable counter-arguments, highlights the flaws in hateful beliefs.

In publishing their poorly-spelled press releases and using foul language to attack high school students, the WBC is hurting their cause more than helping it: even the Klu Klux Klan has denounced their organization. The Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled them “arguably the most obnoxious and rabid hate group in America.” And it seems that the angrier the WBC gets about it, the faster the legislation expands to allow gay marriage.

When the WBC picket their way into the news, they highlight the homophobia that exists in our society. And they give us an opportunity to prove them wrong.

The coming protest has united Wilson and our community in a way that most of us never could have imagined. The Westboro Meet-and-Greet Facebook event, created by students, now boasts nearly a thousand members. The page is filled with supportive messages and comments from students and adults all around the D.C. area, from Georgetown Day School to the spoken word poetry group Lyrikal Storm Poets.

As The Beacon Staff, we have never been more proud of our school. But as we prepare our counter-protest, Wilson students and allies need to ensure that we act in the most effective manner to demonstrate our support for the LGBTQ+ people in our community.

Wilson’s counter-protest needs to be respectful. We cannot lash out at the WBC, because doing so would detract from the message we are trying to send. And even though this is a counter-protest, we must keep that message positive. Our demonstration isn’t about attacking the WBC, it’s about showing our school’s solidarity and pride, and the love and support we give one another.

If the WBC decides not to show up, as it has been known to do, June 9 is still an opportunity for us to express our pride and support for Wilson’s and D.C.’s LGBTQ+ community.

But all this solidarity and love can’t just be a one-time display. Wilson students can’t stand up for gay rights only when Wilson as an entity is attacked. We can’t chant our slogans for half an hour, then go to school and forget about the whole thing. We can’t only fight the overt violence of the Westboro Baptist Church, because it’s covert violence that has the greatest impact on members of the Wilson community–not just on June 9, but in our day-to-day lives.

Though we’ve been praised (or insulted, as by the WBC) for being an accepting school, homophobia within Wilson’s walls is still very real and very much an issue, and often it appears in forms much more damaging than a couple of people with posters.

It is not enough to fight homophobia with signs and slogans. We must fight it by educating ourselves about LGBTQ+ history, by correcting friends who use words like “gay” as insults or make jokes about sexual orientation, by joining or donating to organizations that advocate for LGBTQ+ rights year-round.

The Westboro Baptist Church isn’t the real enemy, or at the very least it isn’t the only enemy. Our protest against homophobia shouldn’t start in front of the school at 8:15 in the morning on June 9, and it certainly shouldn’t end there.