The Phelps family is coming to town. That’s right, America’s favorite hate group, the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC), is gracing Bozeman with their heinous-yet-first-amendment-protected presence. No doubt you’ve heard this already. The Bozeman Daily Chronicle has reported it, several groups have planned counter-protests and the topic has raged across student’s Facebook profiles. Even our university president made a special comment about their visit. In sheer amount of buzz, the visit by the Westboro Baptist Church has more people talking than Yann Martel speaking at Convocation.
With so many talking about the issue, different philosophies have prevailed about how to respond. Three camps have emerged. The first consists of those who believe the Phelps family should be counter-protested loudly and vibrantly with the intended goal of trolling the protesters. The second group also believes in counter-protest, but a silent, peaceful demonstration instead. Lastly, some believe the Church should simply be ignored when they come to Bozeman and the greatest way to demean the WBC is to give no acknowledgement whatsoever.
Logically, the third option cannot work. There are too many people, myself included, who have already decided to counter-protest the WBC and are highly unlikely to change our minds. This is more than just a practical impossibility, however. There is a moral imperative, if you believe in the cause of LGBT-equality, to stand against the WBC.
Consider this: Ever since the Church gained national spotlight for picketing of the funeral of Matthew Shepherd, they have become the face of hatred and homophobia. There are larger and more powerful organizations promoting homophobia, but no group outdoes the Phelps family in notoriety. When the Church rolls into a city, whether it be for a soldier’s funeral or the Oscars, resistance always gathers. The opposition creates hope for those hurt by the Church’s statements. To not protest them would be to send the message that their bile is tolerated. Our silence would imply consent, but it won’t happen under the watch of Bozeman’s counter-protestors.
In this way, the Church has become a symbol of hope for the very thing they hate the most. Each counter-protest shows there is hope for equality in that part of the country. It goes beyond simply protesting the WBC, however. The multitude of counter-protests sends a message to everyone that hatred will not be tolerated. In Montana especially, this is a message that must be spread. Remember that voters in this state voted to outlaw gay marriage in 2004 and only this year repealed its anti-sodomy statute. This show of support for equality and condemnation of hatred will prove that times are changing in Montana, a message all too important to drive home.
So when the WBC arrives on Sept. 9, and if you stand behind the cause of equality, please join me and the many other protesters who will oppose these agents of hatred. Send the message to the Church, the community, the state and the entire country that hatred will not be tolerated in Bozeman.
Also, just in case the WBC doesn’t come to Bozeman, remember this: God hates no-shows.