Becca Daniels, a student at Grady High School who organized the May 6 protest against the anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church, said she did so to honor her uncle.
“In 1998, my uncle died of AIDS and this was to honor his life and death,” she said this week.
The May 6 protest attracted hundreds to the school near Piedmont Park to counter protest a handful of members of Westboro Baptist Church, known for its “God Hates Fags” mantra.
Daniels, who is straight, said the demonstration was meant to send a message.
“We wanted to let them know that hate was not going to come into our neighborhood and we were not going to take a stand against it,” she said.
Counter protesters to WBC carried signs that said, “Acceptance, Tolerance, Love” and “Proud to be Gay.” WBC members carried their signature signs that stated everything from “Fags are Beasts” to “God Hates Fag Enablers.”
The strong show of support against WBC inspired Max Kocsisszucs, a gay 10th grader at Grady.
“It really makes you feel good and it makes you feel that people actually care about you and how many people care,” he said of the show of support.
As for the signs the WBC members were holding, Kocsisszucs said their message did not bother him.
“Honestly, I didn’t let it get to me. I figure they are insecure or something and they feel they have to take it out on us,” he said.
Rex Peterson, a freshman at Grady, was holding hands with his boyfriend, R. Leon, a sophomore at North Atlanta High School.
“I’m really glad a lot of people came out. It’s a good cause,” Peterson said.
Leon said a group of friends from North Atlanta gathered in a big truck to come to the counter demonstration.
“You see there are people against you, but it’s good to see how many more people support you,” he said.
‘Typical high school in doomed America’
The Topeka, Kan.-based WBC, led by Pastor Fred Phelps, is made up mostly of family members. Fred Phelps was not in Atlanta for the protests his church held at numerous Jewish sites and high schools May 5-6.
Student organizer Becca Daniels (Photo by Dyana Bagby)
His daughter, Rebecca Phelps-Davis, said Grady High School was targeted because it 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.”
“Because they’ve been taught that it’s OK to be gay and that God loves everyone,” Phelps-Davis said. “They have no moral compass to guide them.”
The signs WBC uses, most notably “God Hates Fags,” are hate-filled messages and have nothing to do with the word of God, said Maura Neivhardt, a Georgia State University student.
“We’re here to let Jesus be known who he really is. He is not about hate but about redemption. That’s not God,” she said near the Charles Allen entrance to Piedmont Park, pointing across the street to where WBC members stood.
Kate O’Rourke of Gwinnett County said WBC members’ interpretation of the Bible is “completely false.”
“This is absolutely not what Jesus Christ is about,” she said. “The Bible does not say homosexuality will keep you out of heaven specifically. It says if you are redeemed by the blood of Christ nothing can separate you.”
While there was a serious undertone for many to try to dispel WBC’s anti-gay, anti-Semitic speech, the counter protest was also an opportunity for young people to participate in a show of support for the targeted communities.
The fact that youth were behind the counter demonstration was an inspiration for gay Atlanta City Council member Alex Wan, who helped Becca Daniels figure out logistics to set up alongside Piedmont Park.
While Grady High School is in his district, Wan said he wanted to be at the demonstration to show his support of young people stepping up to the plate and taking a stand.
“To me, the fact the students of Grady High School wanted to do a peaceful, very positive demonstration — I personally wanted to do it but also wanted to support the school,” he said.
Tracy Elliott, executive director of AID Atlanta, was also on hand and said he was inspired by the young people’s response as well.
“The important thing is all these people are here to show Atlanta is a tolerant community … especially all these young people,” he said. “The future is not with [WBC], the future is with us.”
Top photo: Hundreds gathered at Grady High School to counter protest the anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church (By Dyana Bagby)