Her Campus Logo Her Campus Logo
placeholder article
placeholder article

We Went to a Counter-Protest Against the Westboro Baptist Church

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Point Park chapter.

The views and opinions in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Her Campus or Point Park University.

Freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and right to peaceful protest are all constitutional rights clearly stated in the First Amendment of our Constitution. However, the line between freedom of expression and hate speech always seems to be blurred and maintains a high level of controversy. Hate speech is that which attacks a group of people based on a certain attribute, whether it be gender identity, occupation, religion, or sexual orientation. 

(Nathan VanHoudnos holding a sign. Photo by Anna Bongardino)

To give a little bit of context, the Westboro Baptist Church made it onto mainstream media in mid-2013 when they became infamous for protesting veterans’ funerals. Since then, they have conducted a number of protests based solely on hate speech, especially targeting the LGBT+ community. They have also condemned Catholics, Orthodox Christians, Muslims, Jews, American soldiers and politicians. 

In their official news release, published on their website, godhatesf*gs.com, they announced their plan to visit Carnegie Mellon, University of Pittsburgh and Duquesne University. Their alleged reason for this visit being “[their] happy and sober duty to inform the students at these Universities that notwithstanding what [their] arrogant, goofy and lying professors, parents and preachers might be “teaching” [them]…sodomy always be an abomination, and those who support it… will be condemned to eternal hell-fire by God Almighty”. They go on to target and devalue the Transgender community by naming them a series of slurs. Unsurprisingly, it really is painful and incredibly uncomfortable getting through their statement.

(Photo by Sarah Cutshall, 2017)

When we found out about the protest, we felt a personal calling to attend and cover it. Cassie’s came from the curiosity of seeing them in person; She wanted to know if they were as radically belligerent as the media portrayed them. Vanessa’s calling was the fact that she had never been in a position in which she could attend a protest and a demonstration of free speech, especially surrounded by college students who thought the same way she did.  

Of course, it would be rude to show up to a protest without some of our own artistic contributions. Vanessa’s poster was inspired by the WBC’s very own news release, which referred to LGBT+ student groups on college campuses as “pitiful student groups, nothing more than groups of reprobates and rebels, kicking God in the shins”. Cassie’s poster was inspired by one of many iconic sayings of drag queen and TV personality RuPaul. 

Once we got on the shuttle, we met some upperclassmen from The Globe who were also going to cover the protests. We walked with them and stopped at CVS to get some ponchos to protect ourselves from the rain. While we were checking out, the older students were writing numbers on their arms. They told us in case they were arrested, they would have the number they wanted to call because the police would take all of their possessions. As journalists, they told us it was important to take these safety measures, even in the unlikely event anything goes wrong. You learn something new every day!

Surprisingly, one counter-protester was arrested at Carnegie Mellon. While we didn’t witness the arrest, Sonya Toler, a spokesperson for Pittsburgh Police Department, said a man was arrested on charges of disorderly conduct. He allegedly ran past the police and grabbed a sign from the WBC, in attempt to rip it in half. 

(Photo by Anna Bongardino, 2017)

Their next destination after CMU was Pitt, and as we found a dry spot with other rainbow-clad counter-protesters, we saw the line of bright umbrella’s marching along Forbes ave. We quickly joined them and were thrust into a crowd of the utmost diversity; people of all ages, races, genders, and sexualities were there, shivering in the rain to protest the bitter hate of this so-called “church.” 

As we waited, looking at the endless river of posters and pride flags and t-shirts, someone announced inaudibly into the microphone. After they finished, the cheers from the crowd washed over us. They weren’t coming. According to the police, the protesters had packed up their “God hates…” signs and decided the crowd of unwavering college students–or the torrential downpour–was too much for them. This, in most of the counter-protesters minds, was a victory. 

Whether the rain was a timely coincidence or a sign from a power stronger than us is up to one’s interpretation. Ultimately, seeing people come together to fight for their rights and the rights of their friends was more powerful than any whirlwind tempest.

Cassie Berta

Point Park

Loud, Liberal, Libra. Freshwoman, Theatre Arts Major; Editorial and Publications Coordinator for HC Point Park. Further antics and opinions found on my social media: Instagram- @cassieeberta Twitter- @SmollCassie
Vanessa Vivas

Point Park '21

Third-Culture Kid. Raised in the midst of Venezuela and Qatar. Currently: living in Pittsburgh  
Rebekah Mohrmann is a Senior Sports, Arts, and Entertainment Management major and Multimedia minor at Point Park University. You can find her on Instagram and Twitter at @rebekahxmarie.