On Monday Sept. 9, members of the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) visited Bozeman, and the community met their protest with messages of love, acceptance and equality.
The Bozeman community, in addition to attendees from as far away as Great Falls, came together Monday in a massive show of cooperation and support for both the LGBTQ community as well as American military personnel.
The WBC, founded by Fred Phelps, is a small not-for-profit church based in Topeka, Kan. which prides itself on its controversial views, believing the acceptance of gay equality in our nation has “damned America.” Established in 1955, the church adheres to what it refers to as a “primitive” version of the Baptist faith and states it preaches against “all forms of sin.”
Since its founding, the WBC has orchestrated over 51,000 pickets of cities and funerals of veterans across the U.S., as well as cities in Canada, Jordan and Iraq. The WBC has been the source of controversy among groups ranging from the ACLU to Veterans Affairs.
The rally started with a palpable buzz of energy, a large crowd of hundreds and loud music. When the music began, people flocked to the stage, eager to hear and excited to see the cause of the event.
The first speaker was Veteran Joe Schumacher who did not speak against the WBC, but instead spoke about coming together to honor and respect American soldiers. Instead of a reaction of vitriolic anger from his speech, the crowd responded positively toward his message.
Liz Welch, a representative of the ACLU of Montana, spoke later, helping to promote their message of equality against the WBC or what she called, “evil hate-mongers that come into our city.” The crowd appeared energetic when she delivered her call to action, a challenge to continue supporting equality after the WBC departs.
Then, Rabbi Ed Stafman led the crowd in chants such as, “Hey ho, hey ho, all this hate has got to go!” and “I scream, you scream, we all scream for equality!”
Returning back to the stage Rabbi Stafman read verbatim words from Rep. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) who went so far as to say, “The actions for this group is an affront on all men and women who wear the uniform.”
Meanwhile, Ellen Kuntz, a freshman at MSU, was able to capture the emotions of the MSU students. She made a split-second decision to photograph the event not only at the MSU campus but also at Bozeman High School. Her focus was on the counter-protest but she was also able to spend a few moments speaking with WBC spokesperson Shirley Phelps-Roper, the daughter of Fred Phelps.
Kuntz noticed that MSU students displayed clever outfits and signs which they brought along to protest the WBC. Kuntz said, “Montana State University students and the city of Bozeman did a great job of not only being vocal about their beliefs but also standing up for what they believe in.”
Kuntz continued, “It would have been easy for the large group of counter-protesters to become violent and spew hate but instead they were calm and non-violent. They took the high road, which is honorable.”
The crowd was direct but peaceful. Kuntz concluded, “MSU students stand for equality and wanted their voices to be heard, by more than just the WBC.”
Written by Alexander Rossito and Karoline Rose
Design by Trever Nelson