“Where the fuck are they?” says one American University student, as she and her friends join the crowd of AUstudents gathered to counter-protest the Westboro Baptist Church gathering on a cold Friday afternoon. “Are they here yet?”
According to their press release, the WBC had arrived to “give your children [i.e., AU students] an opportunity to see what truth looks like.”
“Now they beg for some truth from the humble servants of WBC,” the group said. “They will know what their God requires of them & will not be able to plead ignorance any longer.”
To accomplish this mammoth task, the church had brought just four supporters. AU countered with between 700 and 1,200 student counter-protesters, according to university officials.
Some students didn’t even bother trying to actually see the WBC picketers, who stood across the street from the university, surrounded by protective police.
“I’ll see pictures online,” says Dakota David, a freshman at AU. She was spending her time walking around the crowd, taking note of the various counter-protest signs—some straight-forward, many tongue-in-cheek. “I think it’s awesome,” David says. “When you face something so horrible like the Westboro Baptist Church, we can all unite against that.”
AU students named their counter-protest the “Rally to Reaffirm Sanity,” basing their message off Jon Stewart’s rally last fall.
Some students copied the style of signs from the Stewart rally as well. One sign read “Good Lord, It’s Cold,” while another said “God Hates Hoyas.” Other signs were more direct. One declared “God Loves Orgasms,” and another noted that “Dude, You’re Gay If You Think Lesbians Aren’t Hot.”
Freshman Ty Lane, proudly displaying her rainbow-colored briefs to the WBC picketers, calls the counter-demonstration the largest collected student movement she’d seen since enrolling. “It’s the the biggest joining of AU that I’ve ever seen,” Lane says. “Everyone at AU has at least one gay friend.”
Upon learning Washington City Paper is willing to print curse words, Lane became more explicit.
“I think that Westboro should suck our AU gay cock,” she says. “Because gay rights are going to come around before they’re all dead… so they should deal with it.”
Kim Ketchoyian, a senior, says she’s “flattered” by the WBC’s picketers. “I’m proud of my ‘faggy school’,” she says, putting air quotes around the WBC’s description of AU. “I feel like I’m at a zoo right now. They’re like the lion cubs.”
Many AU students seemed to be spending more time watching the speakers than opposing the WBC picketers. Several a capella groups performed, student leaders gave speeches praising AU’s diversity, and there were readings of poetry created by blacking out certain words in the WBC’s press release.
For her part, sophomore Patrice Ingham says she can’t understand why the WBC chose to show up in the first place. “Do they really have to call us the ‘doom generation’ because we’re more accepting than them?” she says.
“Nobody’s even paying attention to them anymore,” one girl mutters, while AU a cappella group On a Sensual Note sings a Lady Gaga song. “They might as well not even be here.”
Christian Kingston, who had donned an American University snuggie, spent the majority of the rally giving out “Free Consensual Hugs.” “We’re all part of the community, and we need to embrace who we are,” he explains. “By giving out these hugs… we embrace everyone as we are.”
“This is epic,” yells another student, accepting a hug from Kingston before turning back to listen to another a cappella song.
The rally ends with Nate Bronstein, AU’s student government president, leading the crowd in a chant of “Once an Eagle, Always an Eagle.” (AU’s school mascot is, unsurprisingly, an eagle. Its colors are red, white, and blue, though rainbow flags appeared the norm for this event.) Then the loudspeakers blast Lady Gaga’s “Just Dance,” and the whole rally turns into a very chilly dance party.
Not dancing, however, were the WBC protesters. They had left 15 minutes earlier. Guess they don’t like Lady Gaga.