RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) — The picket signs of the Westboro Baptist Church were on display on Monday in Richmond, but they were outnumbered by counter-protesters.
Photo by Alexandra Zernik, Capital News Service
According to the Kansas-based group’s website, the first stop was the State Capitol. The group spoke out against House Del. Danica Roem, the first openly transgender person elected to the General Assembly, calling her a “treasonous enemy of God."
Roem turned it into a positive on social media, using hashtag #WestboroBackfire, and asking supporters to raise money for her re-election campaign.
So far, they’ve raised over $30,000.
Counter protesters far outnumbered the Westboro Baptist Church members on Monday morning, including heavy metal band Lamb of God, armed with colorful kazoos.
The music coming from WBC member Shirley Phelps-Roper’s speaker was barely audible over the counterprotesters’ unconventional chorus of noise.
Singing along to parodies of pop songs like “Bohemian Rhapsody,” with lyrics modified to match the group’s message, Phelps-Roper said WBC intentionally chooses well-known music. “We’re trying to talk to this generation, meet them where they live,” Phelps-Roper said.
The church group protested at Virginia Commonwealth University later Monday morning, where they say students are “familiar with all manner of perversion.”
The university tweeted a statement saying that the group will be occupying public property, adding that they did not invite the church, nor does the church reflects VCU’s core values.
VCU did acknowledge that the church’s right to protest is protected under the first amendment.
At the counterdemonstration at VCU, Meredith Carrington held a sign that read, “God’s love is greater than your hate, Westboro.” Carrington said she felt it was her duty to show up to protest WBC’s messages.
“I think that Richmond has a long history of hate that we’ve done a tremendous amount to overcome, and I think we need to continue to do that in real ways,” Carrington said.
“It’s not the best idea, but if it’s a peaceful protest in the same way that many people here have protested peacefully, then of course it’s okay," said freshman Amel Aksouh.
Another freshman, Aisha Khalifa, added that “it’s their right to come and protest if they want to, but at the same time, it’s very disrespectful to people that are in the Muslim or LGBTQ communities.”
Regardless, Westboro Baptist did not get any warm welcomes from students.
“I think they’re a bunch of loud idiots," said freshman Miriam Koch.
“They never have anything nice or helpful to say, and this isn’t the kind of environment where they should be sharing their opinions," said junior Matthew Cattanio.
The six WBC members were again drowned out by VCU students and counterprotesters who came from the Capitol. Within a half-hour, the group dispersed peacefully as kazoos buzzed and students chanted, “We’re here, we’re queer, nobody wants you here.”
The school also held VCU Unity, an event meant to celebrate VCU’s diverse community.
It featured meditation, yoga and discussions with LGBTQ and student military groups.