Waldlaw Blog

Friday, January 29, 2010

Greeting Fred Phelps, SF Style!

The Westboro Baptist Church was in San Francisco yesterday, and will be back today, spewing their venom in a variety of choice locations around the city including the Jewish Contemporary Museum, a local synagogue/elementary school, Twitter (?), Stanford Hillel, a performance of Fiddler on the Roof ... and my older son's high school. In case you aren't familiar with the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC), they're the congregation in Kansas that became famous for picketing the funeral of Matthew Shepard and who regularly picket the funerals of people who have died of AIDS, as well as the funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq. (I am not linking to their websites because I don't want them to get more traffic than they already do, but if you can't help yourself they have two different sites, godhatesfags.com and jewskilledjesus.com -- are you getting the idea here?) Why, you may ask, were they picketing my older son's high school?? The honest answer is: I have absolutely NO IDEA. My son attends a large public high school -- one of three in the Bay Area that Westboro Baptist Church has selected for picketing -- and while it has an active Jewish students' group (dubbed "Shmooze for Jews") and an active Gay/Straight Alliance, these are just two of a myriad of clubs including a broad variety of cultural and academic clubs, chess club, mah jong club, debate club, etc etc etc. What makes it worth picketing the high school can only be explained by what I gather is a general strategy of the WBC to picket high schools wherever they go, in an effort to take their message of hate directly to the youth. In any case, they were there yesterday afternoon picketing my son's school. We had several days warning that they were coming, and had been making light of it at home. But when I found out, yesterday afternoon, that the WBC folks really were going through with this cockamamie plan, I have to admit to having a true "Mama Bear" moment of utter protectiveness and fury at someone putting my children in harm's way. I had an almost irresistible urge to drive straight to my son's school and run the bastards over. Instead, I reasonably calmly picked up my younger son from his middle school, then made a bee-line across town to scoop up my elder son. Here's what I found: The WBC folks were, in fact, having their picket -- all seven of them -- complete with offensive signs and plenty of venom. But the teachers and counselors had formed a human shield between the picketers and the students, and the students were amazing and fabulous, carrying signs and colorful balloons; wearing yamulkes and feather boas; playing loud music to drown out the hatefulness ("I'm Coming Out" by Diana Ross was blaring through the courtyard when I arrived to pick my son up); doing Israeli folk dances in the school courtyard; and turning the whole event into a moving and uplifting show of solidarity and spirit and good humor the likes of which I haven't seen in quite a while. The students -- very visibly including the gay students and the Jewish students -- the teachers, the staff, the parents -- EVERYONE formed a strong and united front to turn back the hatred. It made me proud of my city, and especially proud of our youth. It also brought home to me in a whole new way what the families must have gone through that walked gauntlets of hatred to take their children to school during the early days of school integration. Having people spew hatred at your children at their schools is particularly awful. I can't imagine what courage and conviction it must have taken for the parents and children who integrated schools in Little Rock and beyond to go through with their plan, and face down the venom day after day. One day, with lots of solidarity and support, was quite enough for me. Favorite signs from yesterday: "God Hates Figs" and "God Hates Polyester Too" (with a citation to Leviticus, no less!). And rumor has it that the school "Phelps-a-thon" -- where people were asked to pledge money for every minute the WBC folks picketed the school -- raised over $900 for the school Gay/Straight Alliance. Now that's what I call turning lemons into lemonade! So, when all was said and done, we had a reasonably happy ending. Although I still wish these awful people would just stay the f**k away from my kids!!!!


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