Walt Whitman H.S. students shout down anti-gay protesters
The Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, KS is notorious for its tasteless and frequently nonsensical anti-gay protests. Not only do they picket the funerals of victims of anti-gay hate crimes, but they have been known to protest concerts, football games, and even a hardware store selling Swedish vacuum cleaners. Most recently, they have been busy picketing the funerals of soldiers killed in the Iraq War, believing their deaths to be a judgment on America.
However, the Westboro protesters may have overreached when they attempted to picket Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda, MD, named after the nineteenth century poet who many biographers believe to have been either homosexual or bisexual.
According to the Potomac Almanac, "When Whitman sophomore Ryan Hauck first heard about the scheduled protest at Whitman from a friend he thought it was a joke. Then he went online ... and saw just how serious the church is. 'I was just shocked just from the second I heard it and I knew I had to do something,' Hauck said. '[It was] the hatred of the whole thing that shocked me.'"
Hauck was aided by his fellow-sophomore Amar Mukunda, who "set up a Facebook group to generate support for the counter-protest through which more than 600 students have committed to attend. Mukunda said he doesn’t expect that many to show up on Friday, but that he does expect a healthy turnout."
As it happened, the turnout far exceeded Mukunda's expection of "a couple of hundred." The Washington Post reports that "faculty had spun the event into an interdisciplinary lesson. English teachers spent the day teaching Whitman's verse. Social studies teachers led a unit on tolerance. Math teachers fanned through the crowd, attempting a head count."
Although the handful of picketers initially had the street to themselves, that changed dramatically when school was dismissed at 2:10 and five hundred students marched out, chanting the school name alternating with "Go home!"
LGBT group Driving Equality had even set up a "Phelps-a-Thon" webpage, promising, "For every minute the 'God Hates Fags' clan is protesting, we will be collecting donations for the Walt Whitman High School gay/straight alliance. ... You can pledge any amount you chose, whether it be $0.25, $0.50, $1, or even $2 for every minute they protest. ... After the event, we will send Phelps a thank you card, telling him how much money he raised for LGBT equality."
Many of the students in the counter-protest were wearing T-shirts bearing a picture of Whitman and the line, "Let your soul stand cool and composed." However, far more sarcastic commentary on the day's events was provided by blogger Oliver Willis, who had taken note of the upcoming protest when it was first announced in March.
"I gotta say," Willis wrote, "if they’re devoting time and resources to protesting Walt Whitman they must have an insane amount of time on their hands. Leaves of grass, indeed."
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