On November 10th, members of the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC), an unaffiliated Baptist church known for its radical beliefs against LGBTQ people, Jews, and politicians, briefly picketed Winston Churchill High School because of its Sexuality and Gender Alliance, also known as SAGA or GSA, club.
The Churchill community organized a Unity and Pride day to promote LGBTQ support throughout the school as well as a counter-protest, attracting over 150 people from across the Potomac area. Although it was raining, students still stood outside with their bright colored clothing, posters, and spirits.
Alex Baumann, a sophomore at Churchill and a participant in the counter protest, said, “The main highlight was probably Churchill students being able to come together and do something this big that showed our unity as a school. So many students care about the school community and there’s so much support for the minorities in the school.”
The Churchill Principal, Dr. Joan Benz, had initially sent out an email asking for students to not conduct the counter protest. However, since the counter protest took place on public land, the administration could not bring forth any legal measures to stop it.
This is not the first time the WBC has protested MCPS schools. In 2009, they picketed at Walt Whitman High School, citing the sexuality of Walt Whitman, for whom the school is named after, as the cause. The WBC also protested at Rockville High School the morning of November 10th, the day same as their Churchill picket.
The WBC often makes national headlines due to their unscrupulous methods of protesting. They frequently picket at schools, soldiers’ funerals, and religious sites, but are careful to remain on public land so as to avoid legal trouble. After their pickets at a soldier’s funeral had caused major emotional distress for the father of the victim, the WBC was challenged in the Supreme Court Case Snyder v. Phelps. In an 8-1 decision, the Supreme Court claimed that even if speech is found to be “outrageous”, the 1st Amendment allows a protest on public land to be constitutional.
The two WBC members that protested at Churchill carried large, homophobic posters. They left five minutes before school ended, so no major conflict ensued. Nonetheless, the counter protest continued. A few police officers stood on the Churchill school property to ensure that there was no disruption. The Churchill community plans to make Unity and Pride Day an annual event, hoping to promote solidarity throughout the school and to remind all to support love in the face of hate.
Article by MoCo Student staff writer Omisa Jinsi of Churchill High School