by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Staff Writer
When a group of Westboro Baptist Church members came to Seattle June 14 to spread hate and picket two local churches, they weren't met with anger or violence. Instead, they ran into a church choir, a strong show of Gay pride, and a bubble machine.
You've seen these guys before - the "God Hates Fags" people who picket U.S. servicemembers' funerals, yell homophobic epitaphs, and hold provocative signs telling everyone they are going to hell. The church is located in Topeka, Kansas and has been operating for over 50 years. They are not affiliated with any known Baptist conventions and associations - in fact, mainstream Primitive Baptists publicly reject the group.
The peaceful community response to Fred Phelps and Westboro Baptist Church, labeled Seattle OUTprotest and Celebration, was the brainchild of Eduardo Brambila and a group of young LGBT activists who wanted the Westboro contingent to take a message back to Phelps that Seattle is an empowered community.
"Seattle OUTprotest didn't come from an idea, at first, it was me reacting to hate and wanting to educate people about these issues," said lead organizer of Seattle OUTprotest Eduardo Brambila. "We developed the idea of creating an event that empowers our community, creates unity, and shows off the diversity in cultures and communities. It allowed us to send a stronger message and better address the concerns."
When Brambila heard Phelps' people planned to picket Mt. Zion Church and St. James Catholic Cathedral, he created a Facebook event page. He said by the time he woke up in the morning, he had e-mails from people thanking him for standing up and wanting to get involved. The list of people and organizations within the Seattle Gay community showed an overwhelming outpour of support. Brambila decided it was time to mobilize.
Seattle OUTprotest Media and Press Coordinator Carmen Rivera said, "The organization became successful because the Queer community is strong. The people who came out to show their Pride and support are what made this event great."
Brambila said it was interesting to see such a diverse group of ethnicities, religious backgrounds and ages band together in the face of hate.
"We were able to quickly gather community partners with local organizations; Allyship, American Friends Service Committee, Entre Hermanos, Gay City, The Gender Roundtable, Jewish Vice for Peace, Lambert House, Metropolitan Community Church Seattle, Queer Alley Coalition, Seattle Gay News, The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence - The Abbey of St. Joan, Solid Ground, Tacoma Rainbow Center, Triangle Club-Seattle University and Voices Rising," Brambila said. "We received free food from Taqueria La Fondita and Taqueria el Rinconsisto. Printings were donated by Urban Press and audio by Kelcema Productions."
All told, over 200 supporters of Seattle OUTprotest and Celebration showed up to counter-protest the Phelps group from 10-10:45 a.m. at Mt. Zion Church and again, from 11 a.m. - noon at St. James Catholic Cathedral. The preaching from the Phelps group was drowned out by music from a sound system and then by the singing of a Catholic Church choir. OUTprotesters held signs of unity and love to counter the Westboro signs of hate. The Phelps group desecrated the American flag and told people over and over again they would be going to hell - all the while the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence shot bubbles of peace towards the Westboro group to the sounds of Cher on the sound system. Although comical, the OUTprotest packed a strong punch - so strong of a punch, in fact, the Westboro group packed up early and left.
As for Brambila and OUTprotest, he said they aren't going anywhere.
"We've decided to stay around and serve as a standby development group. We will be prepared and ready to mobilize whenever needed," he said. "Not just addressing LGBTQ issues, but also racism, sexism and any other community concern. We're here to support local organizations efforts and bring a 'mini-Pride' to events."
Rivera agrees. She said the group is an active way for the community to stand together with Pride.
"It's an excellent tactic to channel negative energy into positive activism," said Rivera. "By participating, you can meet new people, reunite with old friends, and remind not only Seattle, but yourself, that we will never stay silent against ignorance."
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