IMAGE: Photos by Katie Gilbert
A handful of anti-gay protesters from a notorious Kansas church descended Monday on downtown Portland to picket Portland State University as well as the German and Swedish consulates.
As is typical for the demonstrators from Westboro Baptist Church, they were vastly outnumbered by counterprotesters and media. And there was one other pesky snafu that kept the morning from going completely as planned: Portland hasn’t had a Swedish Consulate since it closed June 1 after 70 years (see “The Stockholm Blues,” Wwire, May 30, 2008).
In case you’re wondering what a handful of extremist anti-gay demonstrators have against Sweden, the explanation on the group’s godhatesfags.com website says: “God hates Sweden, and everyone needs to know that. They arrest Bible preachers and put them in prison in that evil nation.”
Gripes against Sweden aside, Topeka-based Westboro Baptist is a 50-member church that’s unaffiliated with any mainstream faith. Not surprising perhaps, given that its 79-year-old pastor, Fred Phelps, believes God kills U.S. soldiers to punish the country for tolerating homosexuality. Hence, military funerals across the country often draw his followers’ sign-waving wrath.
Phelps wasn’t in Portland on Monday. But three of his followers began their protest at 7:30 am at PSU, which had attracted the church’s indignation for opening gender-neutral restrooms. On Southwest 13th Avenue and Market Street, the trio of demonstrators quietly held signs declaring, “God Hates Fags,” “God Hates You” and “America Is Doomed.” One displayed an image of President-elect Barack Obama with horns, between the words “Antichrist Obama.”
About 200 counterdemonstrators gathered across the street, waving homemade signs and rainbow flags. Some crossed the street to stand next to the anti-gay demonstrators and held up their own signs, hand-painted with messages like, “God Hates Fuzzy, Tiny Kittens.”
Others tried unsuccessfully to engage the two young women and one older man from Westboro in conversation.
Both sides of the protest remained largely unruffled. Tom Hastings, a PSU conflict-resolution program faculty member (see “Nonviolent Femmes,” WW, Nov. 19, 2008), says PSU’s Queer Resource Center asked him to attend the counterprotest as a “nonviolent vibes watcher.” He says he had to tell only one student to settle down.
“We win if we don’t respond,” Hastings says. “If we dish back hate, they win the victory they so frequently get. But they didn’t reckon for Portland.”
When the Swedish Consulate part of the protest didn’t turn out, Phelps’ followers next headed to the German Consulate at Southwest 3rd Avenue and Market Street. (“Have we told you lately that God Hates Germany?” says the Westboro website.) About 20 counterprotesters greeted them there, bobbing signs and tossing tongue-in-cheek barbs.
“We know your research isn’t that good because we don’t have a Swedish Consulate, but we do have a gay mayor!” one counterprotester shouted at the Westboro demonstrators from across the street. “City Hall is only a couple of blocks away. We could introduce you to Sam; he’s a lovely man.”
FACTS: The Westboro demonstrators made another Oregon stop on Monday in Silverton, which this month made national headlines by electing transgendered Stu Rasmussen as its mayor. Says Rasmussen of the protest and the 200 counterprotesters: “Silverton really is the best place on earth.”