QRC counters “God Hates Fags” protest

Monday morning hundreds of students and community members assembled at the intersection of Southwest 13t Avenue and Market Street to witness or counter an anti-gay rights protest held by members of the Westboro Baptist Church.

Monday morning hundreds of students and community members assembled at the intersection of Southwest 13t Avenue and Market Street to witness or counter an anti-gay rights protest held by members of the Westboro Baptist Church.

The Queer Resource Center held a counterprotest in response to a protest held by four members of the church, the self-proclaimed God Hates Fags group out of Topeka, Kan. Members of the church came to protest the existence of the Queer Resource Center, Portland State’s non-discriminatory policies and the inclusion of gender-neutral bathrooms.

Protesters from the church sang, “God hates America, land of the fags” sung to the tune “God Bless America,” while counterprotestors responded with a song of their own: “Hey hey, ho ho, homophobia’s got to go!”

Despite the clearly clashing opinions expressed by the two groups, the protest remained peaceful. The church protesters held picket signs that read messages that included, “American is Doomed” and “Obama is the Anti-Christ,” which depicted the president-elect with devil horns.

Among church protestors was 17-year-old Taylor Drain, a member of the church. Drain held a large sign that read, “Fags are Beasts” over her head.

“The bible says that fags are beasts,” Drain said, her voice trembling. “They go after everyone who doesn’t agree with their filth. The fags have taken over violently to bring this nation straight to hell.”

Drain said she is from Topeka, Kan., and has always been a part of the church. She also said that she isn’t attending school right now because it is her job to preach this message to “doomed Americans.”

Also present in support of the WBC was 16-year-old Victoria Phelps, granddaughter of Rev. Fred Phelps Sr., founder of the church.

“I am here to preach to the people of Portland, Oregon, that they need to stop sinning now and repent,” Phelps said, who cited places in the King James Bible that bolstered her position.

“We translate what [Jesus] said so that you guys can understand him,” Phelps said, responding to the “God is Love” message of some of the counterprotestors, which she considered a misconception.

Phelps said she was raised in the church and that her family is supportive of her traveling to spread the church’s message instead of attending school.

A second granddaughter of Rev. Phelps Sr., 25-year-old Libby Phelps, gleefully stated that, “We love the response we’re getting here, it just brings more attention to our message,” in between versus of “God Hates America.”

“Since we are here on the day of judgment, Portlanders will have absolutely no excuse,” Libby said.

Hundreds of commuters drove by, many flashing profane hand gestures towards the WBC members, and even more honking and cheering as they passed the large group assembled with the Queer Resource Center.

Shaynah Hampton, a 26-year-old PSU senior who was in support of the QRC’s counterprotest, said that WBC members took freedom of speech too far.

“I believe in equal rights and that everybody should be able to live how they want, but they’re a cult,” said Hampton, who identified herself as an ally of the QRC. Hampton stood in a small group with signs reading “Equality for All,” “We Love Gender-Neutral Bathrooms” and “Let us Pee in Peace”.

Devin Trainer and Travis Beardsley, both students of the Pacific Northwest College of Arts, stood with the QRC’s counterprotest group.

Beardsley explained his viewpoint, which was commonly held among the protestors.

“It’s interesting, and I’m glad that they came. They’re always welcome in Portland where we value free speech,” Beardsley said. He had ventured over to the WBC members earlier, and although he personally disagreed with their message, he did was not bothered by their choice to voice it.

Trainer stood next to Beardsley, nonchalantly holding a sign that read, “I seriously doubt that God hates fags” in plain lettering. According to Trainer, the group’s message was rather ridiculous.

Other counterprotesters held similar feelings, and even infiltrated the WBC protest holding signs reading “God Hates Plastic Bags,” and “God Hates Fuzzy Kittens”.

According to the sign holders, these were aimed at illustrating the ridiculousness of the WBC’s message.

With Portland Police standing by and a group of volunteer, nonviolence peacekeepers on hand, the protest and counter protest stayed civil.

“We are just coexisting,” Stoop Nilsson, community member and peacekeeper, said. “We’re not trying to preach hate, and it’s kind of cool.”

Nilsson was one of the volunteers flanking the WBC members, waiting to react if the counter protests went negative.

The biggest fear for these peacekeepers was a flare up that could allow the WBC to sue individuals, Portland State or the City of Portland.

“They are supporting their organization through lawsuits, and they’re trying to rile up violence for that,” Kerry Bassett, master’s candidate in the conflict resolution program at PSU, said.

Overall, the QRC reported this counter protest as a success. “We’re really proud that PSU and the community came out to support us the way they did,” Zena Piccolo, student life coordinator for the QRC, said with a smile.