Westboro Baptist Church

A few weeks ago, a friend called me frantically, “The Westboro
Baptist Church is coming to Brandeis to protest Hillel! What are we
going to do?” After a moment of shock, deep feelings of anger and
disgust began to emerge within me. The Westboro Baptist Church
(WBC) is a controversial, extreme religious group that is known for
their adamant anti-gay stance. Most recently, they have graced
newspapers throughout the nation due to their picketing of military
funerals, based on the belief that God is punishing the United
States of America since the nation supports the LGBT community and
gay rights. The group’s picketing of military funerals has led to
recent first-amendment court cases, one of which is currently being
debated in the Supreme

After receiving that call from a close friend, I pulled out my
computer to investigate. I scrolled down the group’s “Picket Schedule
and discovered for myself that the rumor was true and that they
were planning to make a protesting tour through Massachusetts,
stopping in the morning at my alma mater, Brandeis University. The
group also was planning on picketing local productions of The
Laramie Project, a heart-wrenching play about the ruthless murder
of Matthew Shepherd.

If you were unaware before, Brandeis has a very large Jewish
community, is known for its strong belief in social justice, and is
a campus where the LGBT community is both welcomed and supported.
One of the reasons I loved my undergraduate years at Brandeis
University was that the campus was so open to diversity and
difference. College years are a time for exploration and change,
which is fostered through a supportive and loving community rather
than prejudice and bigotry.

My friend’s and I discussed the upcoming protests and began
debating. What is the best way to respond to the WBC? Should we
form a picket line of our own? Or should we just ignore their
picketing since it is not worth fighting with such an illogical and
extreme group? In the end, the Brandeis community valiantly spun
the experience in a positive light, deciding to unite as a
community in support for tolerance and acceptance of every person
on campus.

Student organizations joined together to create an event entitled
” in response to the WBC’s message of hatred. The
event featured a cappella singing, improv performances, face
painting as a symbol of the student bodies’ colorful identities
(as stated by a student leader in Brandeis’ GLBT/Queer Alliance,
Triskelion), and speeches by the President of the university,
President elect, and Dean of Student Life. As stated in a poster
for the event, “On December 3, 2010, the WBC wishes to bring its
message of hate to Brandeis. We, however, commit to joining with
other members of our community to exemplify and celebrate our
commitment to diversity, tolerance, and mutual respect.” In
addition to the event, Brandeis’ Hillel encouraged the student
body, faculty, and staff to donate to the “Phelps-A-Thon”, a
fundraiser to benefit Keshet, a Boston based advocacy
organization for LGBT Jews. As of now, over $4000 has been
collected to donate to the organization.

I am extremely proud of the response made by the Brandeis community
to the WBC’s recent visit to the campus. Rather than fighting
back with abhorrence and anger, or spitting directly in their faces
(as one of my friend’s suggested), the Brandeis community joined
together in unity and love. I commend the efforts of everyone who
participated in making “Celebrate Brandeis” and the
“Phelps-a-Thon” fundraiser a success. While the WBC meant to
spread their anti-Semitism and anti-gay beliefs by picketing the
school, instead their visit inspired the campus to become more
united as a community.

If you would like to show your support in celebrating Brandeis and
its inspiring response to the WBC, please sign the
Celebrate Brandeis statement
created by the Justice League (a
collaboration of multiple student organizations).

This experience has strongly solidified to me that I am extremely
grateful and lucky to work for an organization that fights for the
rights of every person, no matter their sexual orientation. It is
comforting to know that there are people in this world, like the
people at FEC as well as the Brandeis community, who are willing to
stand up against such bigoted extremists to fight for LGBT