By Brittany Ruess, Managing Editor, and Alex Brandt, News Editor
The Clayton High School Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) counter-protested in the 30-degree morning chill as the Westboro Baptist Church held signs saying, “God Hates Fags,” on Clayton’s campus.
“We saw it as an opportunity to really show our community the acceptance and inclusion of our school,” Halo Howell, 18-year-old Clayton High School senior and GSA member, said.
The Westboro Baptist Church is a Topeka, Kan., based church organization. Westboro protests to spread its message that America is condemned because of the nation’s tolerance of homosexuals.
“The message is that America is doomed because … of rejection of the Bible’s word and God’s word about life and death issues, involving lifestyle and how you live your lives,” Westboro leader Fred Phelps, Jr. said.
The protest, on Feb. 6, lasted about 30 minutes. Westboro arrived early after skipping another scheduled protest at Fort Zumwalt East due to time constraints, according to Fred Phelps, Jr. He said Westboro is involved in about six lawsuits in the eighth circuit Court of Appeals located in Clayton; the lawsuits deal with their rights to protest. He said when Westboro comes back to St. Louis to appear at the lawsuit hearings, they could stop by Fort Zumwalt East.
Video by Josh Coppenbarger
“I can almost guarantee you that the next time we’re anywhere near that vicinity (Fort Zumwalt East) that it will be on our itinerary,” Phelps said.
Howell and Seth Lewis, 16-year-old Clayton High School junior and GSA member, said their organization first heard about the protest a couple weeks ago. That’s when they started planning. The GSA met with administrators asking for help to inform teachers and students about the protest’s rules and regulations. An informative presentation was also held last week.
“Sending a consistent message was really important to us,” Howell said. “We wanted to make sure everybody understood what the protocol was. It’s completely non-violent, just completely full of love, peace and acceptance.”
Webster student Chris Robinson, junior human rights major, said he thinks more attention was being paid to the counter-protesters than to the Westboro picketers.
“Yes, there’s this many people coming out, but it’s not to tell them to stop; it’s to support the Gay Straight Alliance,” Robinson said.
Webster alum Eli Chi said he came because this was his community.
“I live this everyday; this is my life,” Chi said. “This is what I believe in.”
Howell and Lewis said the GSA expected Westboro to eventually protest on Clayton’s campus. Nathan Phelps, the estranged son of Westboro leader Fred Phelps, spoke at Clayton High School last year. Nathan Phelps is an LGBTQ advocate. Westboro made claims to protest Clayton when Nathan Phelps spoke, but never showed. In fall 2011, the Clayton School District Board of Education included sexual orientation in the non-discrimination policy.
“We know Clayton’s a very accepting community, but just to have that in the books and in the policy meant a lot to further the change in the community, as well,” Lewis said. “It felt really good having a change.”
Six Westboro members protested, separated from the hundreds of counter-protestors. Fred Phelps, Jr. said the numbers are irrelevant.
“Sometimes when there’s that type of reaction, it just puts more of a spotlight on what we’re saying,” Fred Phelps, Jr. said. “To use a Bible story I’m sure you’re familiar with, is to tell me how many people were on Noah’s ark?
There were eight people on the ark and millions of people on Earth when the flood hit. So, the Bible’s full of events in which the numbers are way off kilter.”