On Monday morning, a Kansas-based hate group
attempted to spread its message to high schools in Washington, D.C., including the Sidwell Friends School.
Roughly a half dozen members of the Westboro Baptist Church gathered on Wisconsin Avenue, across four lanes of traffic from Sidwell, to protest the school's policy of supporting gay rights. The hate group was outnumbered, although not outshouted, by the 100 Sidwell students amassed in front of their school The students of Sidwell -- a Quaker school that promotes diverse perspectives and respect for individual opinions -- stood in silent protest against the four adults and two children from the hate group.
Westboro church, headed by Pastor Fred Phelps, is notorious for its anti-gay protests and proclamations that natural disasters and tragedies are God's punishment for a society that tolerates homosexuality.
Westboro Church also planned to target Wilson High School, a D.C. public school with nearly 1,600 students, because it, like Sidwell, has a student group that supports gay and lesbian student rights.
Nearly 200 Wilson students who gathered to meet the hate group covered the rainbow of student interests. Although both schools downplayed the protest --- one Wilson teacher said that he learned of the protest through Facebook --- to avoid giving credibility to the group, the students felt compelled to take a stand.
One student at Wilson held a sign saying "Make the world safe for me to be straight or gay with dignity." According to a parent, the girl had first held that sign as a 1-month-old child in a parade in support of gay rights. Other signs called for peace or proclaimed that 'I'm gay and God loves me" and "I'm straight but not narrow."
The hate group, however, never saw the signs at Wilson. As Peter Cahall, the school principal, announced to the students when the group failed to show up, "You have scared away the group with your numbers and it is now time to get to work."
The protest, which came on the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the 71st anniversary of Kristallnacht, when Nazis coordinated attacks on Jewish people and their property in Germany and German-controlled lands, brought to mind the importance of standing up for what is right against those who promote what is wrong. Some parents and teachers marveled at the sight of seeing so many students out to protest against a hate group. Others recalled their own protests decades ago against the Vietnam War. Some recalled not just the fall of the Berlin Wall, but also its construction, and the words that President John F. Kennedy spoke in protest against the freedom that the wall denied. "All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin. And therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words "Ich bin ein Berliner!"
Were similar words to be spoken today, it seems clear that as people who struggle to rid the world of hate, we would all stand in solidarity with yarmulkes on our heads, proudly proclaiming that we are all members of the Gay, Lesbian, Straight, Bisexual, transgender Alliance in protest against hate wherever it may be.