Why we should wel­come West­boro to ATL.

GA Voice - - Front Page - By LAURA DOU­GLAS-BROWN lbrown@the­gavoice.com

Fred Phelps’ West­boro Bap­tist Church is coming to town, and I couldn’t be hap­pier.

The “God Hates Fags” clan from Topeka, Kan., has an­nounced plans to be in At­lanta for two days in April to protest tar­gets rang­ing from the NCAA Bas­ket­ball “Fi­nal Four” at the Ge­or­gia Dome on April 6 to three con­gre­ga­tions — Cre­flo Dol­lar’s World Chang­ers Church In­ter­na­tional in At­lanta, Beu­lah Mis­sion­ary Bap­tist Church in De­catur, and Basil­ica of The Sa­cred Heart of Je­sus in At­lanta — April 7.

“You won’t go into the Fi­nal Four At­lanta orgy-of-gross-drunken-nasty-rev­el­ing with­out be­ing warned by the faith­ful ser­vants of WBC, with this core mes­sage, timely and top­i­cal at this hour: Fag mar­riage dooms na­tions,” the pseudo-church warns on its web­site.

You can read more about West­boro’s jus­ti­fi­ca­tions for the new At­lanta protests at our web­site, www.the­gavoice.com, but they all add up to the same as usual: “God will not have fag mar­riage.”

That th­ese events have noth­ing to do with LGBT equal­ity doesn’t mat­ter, as West­boro’s quest is mainly about me­dia at­ten­tion, so they pick high-pro­file events re­gard­less of rel­e­vancy.

Up un­til three years ago, I would have ad­vo­cated a strat­egy of sim­ply not giv­ing it to them.

I thought we should treat the West­boro id­iots like mis­be­hav­ing chil­dren who thrive on neg­a­tive at­ten­tion: ig­nore them.

Many peo­ple in our com­mu­nity still fa­vor this ap­proach, and I can un­der­stand why. So why am I happy now that West­boro is coming?

Be­cause of a hot day in May 2010, when West­boro came to Grady High School.

Grady High is an At­lanta in­sti­tu­tion. I grew up hear­ing my fa­ther’s sto­ries about walking to school there. West­boro tar­geted Grady for the group’s stan­dard ab­surd rea­sons.

Grady is a “typ­i­cal high school in doomed Amer­ica where the chil­dren since the time they were old enough to know any­thing were told that God is a liar,” Fred’s daugh­ter, Re­becca Phelps-Davis, told GA Voice at the time.

“Be­cause they’ve been taught that it’s OK to be gay and that God loves ev­ery­one,” she said. “They have no mo­ral com­pass to guide them.”

Straight stu­dent Becca Daniels or­ga­nized the counter-protest of stu­dents and com­mu­nity mem­bers that drew hun­dreds to drown out West­boro’s hand­ful of hate-mon­gers.

“In 1998, my un­cle died of AIDS and this was to honor his life and death,” Daniels said at the time. “We wanted to let them know that hate was not go­ing to come into our neigh­bor­hood and we were go­ing to take a stand against it.”

It’s not that I hadn’t seen protests and counter-protests like this be­fore. But the fact that young peo­ple, in­clud­ing straight young peo­ple, or­ga­nized the Grady ef­fort moved me deeply. I brought my own young daugh­ters to see what kids not much older than they are could ac­com­plish, and to show them that even if they en­counter anti-gay bias, peo­ple who love will al­ways out­num­ber those who hate.

It was im­pos­si­ble to leave Grady that day and not know which side will win in the bat­tle for LGBT equal­ity.

The West­boro haters ac­tu­ally have a his­tory of bring­ing out the best in those they tar­get.

It started in earnest back in 1999, af­ter West­boro moved into na­tional promi­nence by latch­ing onto the 1998 hate-crime death of gay Wy­oming col­lege stu­dent Matthew Shep­ard.

With signs like “Fag Matt in Hell,” West­boro protested Shep­ard’s funeral. But when the clan an­nounced plans to also protest the 1999 tri­als of his killers, Ro­maine Pat­ter­son, a friend of Shep­ard’s, had had enough.

She or­ga­nized the very first “An­gel Ac­tion” — counter-pro­test­ers wear­ing an­gel cos­tumes with mas­sive wings they un­furl to block the West­boro pro­test­ers from view.

“Love, re­spect and com­pas­sion for ev­ery­one is why we are here to­day. I could no longer sit idly by and watch oth­ers bring forth mes­sages that were noth­ing more than vin­dic­tive and hate-filled,” Pat­ter­son said in an April 1999 press re­lease, dis­trib­uted the first time the an­gels ap­peared.

And in 2003, when the Phelps clan started tar­get­ing fu­ner­als of Amer­i­can sol­diers killed in ac­tion (be­cause they de­fend the Fag Na­tion of Amer­ica, of course), the Pa­triot Guard Rid­ers formed to make sure fam­i­lies of dead sol­diers would see sup­port­ers wav­ing Amer­i­can flags, not the Phelps crew.

“The most im­por­tant thing we can do is let fam­i­lies know that the na­tion cares,” Don Woodrick, the group’s Ken­tucky cap­tain, told Fox News back in 2006. “When a to­tal stranger gets on a mo­tor­cy­cle in the mid­dle of win­ter and drives 300 miles to hold a flag, that makes a pow­er­ful state­ment.”

An­gel ac­tions now fre­quently take place in cities tar­geted by West­boro, and the Pa­triot Guard has trav­eled to wher­ever it is needed.

The tar­gets West­boro has cho­sen for its lat­est At­lanta visit are pretty random, so they may not in­spire counter-protests on the scale of Grady High. No spe­cific plans had been an­nounced by press time, although PFLAG At­lanta said on Face­book its mem­bers would be part of a re­sponse.

But what­ever the counter protest, large or small, it will re­mind us that re­gard­less of our dif­fer­ences, we share a com­mon en­emy in ex­trem­ism and a com­mon cause — and path to equal­ity — in the abil­ity to love openly.

Wel­come to At­lanta, West­boro. We’re still too busy to hate.

West­boro Bap­tist Church tar­geted At­lanta’s Grady High School in 2010, draw­ing a mas­sive counter-protest. (Photo by Dyana Bagby)

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