I woke up this morning to find an email on Facebook regarding an action here in Chicago. Fred Phelps was in town to protest the Center on Halstead, and local LGBT activists were organizing to show our strength in numbers. The sign-making was already under way by the time I read my email, so I decided to get down to the Center in time for the protest.
We all kind of waited around for a while, and I ended up making awkward small talk with strangers. The organizers weren’t entirely certain whether or not Phelps was actually going to show up. Regardless, they decided we were going to make a show of force, sending a message to Phelps and the world that hate isn’t welcome here.
We all filed outside to stand infront of the building. Because it was pretty cold out, we walked in a loop in the sidewalk infront of the Center, many of us holding signs or rainbow flags, chanting alternately “Hey hey! Ho ho! Homophobia’s got to go!”, or “Gay! Straight! Black! White! Marriage is a civil right!, or “Gay! Straight! Black! White! Same struggle, same fight!”
Eventually, someone spotted the Phelps clan in front of the police station down the street, so people strated moving towards them. No one was sure where we were going until we got there. There were at least 200 of us, and there couldn’t have been more than four of them in the Phelps group. I was standing towards the back of the crowd, and I could hardly see them. But I couldn’t mistake their signs: something ugly about “Fags”, and a picture of Obama with horns with the word “antichrist.” One of them was holding a very young child who looked terrified.
They were clearly intimidated. I almost felt bad for them. People in the crowd were really angry, and I think the message was conveyed: Hate is not welcome here.
My fear about this action is that there were many in the crowd who have as much hate in their hearts as Fred Phelps does. As I watched the goings on (and yes, I was glad to see them retreat), what kept running through my mind and heart is “God loves everyone.” I hope that my LGBT brothers and sisters, while they express their anger and their pain at the acts of hate perpetrated by Phelps and his ilk, can find enough room in their hearts to love, forgive, and feel compassion for these most misguided people.