As the sun rose Saturday morning, so did passions when a group of six people carrying signs declaring, “God hates fags” were met by more than 500 counterprotesters chanting “No hate at Drake.”
Six members of the Westboro Baptist Church, a controversial church led by Fred Phelps in Topeka, Kan., gathered in a small barricaded corner of University Avenue and 26th Street to protest the same-sex marriage symposium hosted by the Drake Law School.
Among the 500 on the lawn of Old Main were Drake students, administrators and other Des Moines residents. Porterhouse, Drake’s live mascot, even showed up with a sign reading, “Don’t hate me because I’m a Beautiful Bulldog.”
The Drake Rainbow Union held fundraisers to raise money for OneIowa, Al Snyder and AIDS research.
Some fundraisers included a dollar kissing booth, monetary donations, PRIDE wristbands and T-shirts made by RAYGUN and designed by students. Approximately $1,200 was raised to divide among these causes.
Counterprotesters held a wide array of signs, some saying, “Hate not,” “All we need is love,” “God hates hate” and “God loves all,” among others. The crowd also joined in song with “The Star Spangled Banner,” “Let It Be” and “All You Need is Love.”
On the WBC side of University Avenue were, among others, Sara Phelps and two of her young cousins—one donning in a sweatshirt reading, “JewsKilledJesus.com.”
“This gay marriage symposium going on over here at this university, and we’re here to remind you that there’s a God in heaven and he has placed his standard in this earth and that it’s unchanging,” said an unnamed WBC member. “You can all join hands and tell God he’s wrong. It doesn’t change the facts of the matter. And we’re here to remind these young people that just because your parents have lied to you for your whole lives, it doesn’t change God.”
The WBC members arrived at the university at 7:40 a.m. and left around 8:15 a.m. According to the WBC Web site, church members were supposed to protest at several area Jewish synagogues, but they went back to Kansas instead.
President David Maxwell also showed up to talk to Drake students. He said in an e-mail sent to the Drake community that he was proud of the peaceful demonstration.
“I want to express my sincere thanks to and admiration for all of those who planned and/or took part in this morning’s counterprotest against the Westboro Baptist Church,” Maxwell said. “The elegance and wisdom of your words and actions were truly impressive—a balanced combination of passion and restraint.
“I have always been extremely proud to be the president of Drake University; this morning was one of those moments of special pride,” he continued to say in the e-mail. “We define ourselves as individuals and as organizations by what we say and by what we do. We must recognize that our words have consequence, and that their meaning and their impact will be diminished if they are not reflected in our actions. The manner in which the counter-demonstration was carried out this morning was a powerful message that we, as the Drake community, truly believe in who we are—grounded in a set of core principles and values that, even when challenged in the most repugnant and vulgar manner, guide our words and our actions.”
A majority of crowd members were Drake students. Alex Masica, one of the event coordinators, sent a Facebook message out to members of the counterprotest group thanking them for “spreading your love.”
“I am so happy there were so many people who decided losing a few hours of sleep was well worth showing the WBC that love really can and does conquer anything,” he said in the message.
Sophomore Ashley Seidel said the difference in size between the protest and counter protest was the most impressive part of the morning.
“It was nice to see how much support we had from Drake compared to how few they had on the other side of the street,” Seidel said. She said the contrast was a good illustration of global feelings toward the WBC.
Seidel said she was also disturbed by the church’s inclusion of children in the protest groups.
“I don’t think it’s fair that they train them like that,” she said. “It makes me sad.”
There were no arrests made at the protest.
Katherine Hunt and Tyler O’Neil contributed reporting to this article.