David Mendez

Redondo Union High School counter-protest “drowns” Westboro Baptist Church

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Counter-protesters attempt to “drown out” picketers from the Westboro Baptist Church, across from Redondo Union High School on Jan. 11. Photo by David Mendez

Counter-protesters attempt to “drown out” picketers from the Westboro Baptist Church, across from Redondo Union High School on Jan. 11. Photo by David Mendez

by David Mendez

They arrived two minutes late, left two minutes early and in the interim, as one person said, the Westboro Baptist Church was “drowned out by love.”

Citizens of Redondo Beach, and from around the South Bay, turned out en masse to support the students of Redondo Union High School in a counter-protest against a church that has become known for angry, hate-filled rhetoric. Often, WBC mobilizes with signs and literature, preaching God’s supposed hatred of homosexuality, and blaming numerous tragedies on progressive social movements.

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Last week, students took notice of the church’s social media announcements and began to mobilize. Lola Chase, a Redondo senior and president of RUHS’s Gay-Straight Alliance, led the charge, setting up a sign-making party at the South Bay LGBT Center on Thursday, Jan. 7.

Alphonzo Hicks, president of the South Bay LGBT Center, was proud of the young men and women who filled up the rooms of his organization.

“I think that a lot of young people don’t get a chance to stand up and fight for something,” he said. “You could, now, go through your entire life without someone calling you a faggot, or a dyke, and we need to remember that there are still people committing suicide, and people still getting beaten in other areas. It’s a good thing that we’re doing this.”

In a room away from tables covered in signs, paint markers and glitter, Chase called the counter-protest “a stand for ourselves, the community, and the LGBT youth.

“I like the idea that a student walking into school would see, for every one sign that Westboro has, filled with hate, they’ll see 20 more on our side,” she said.

On Monday morning, the 20:1 estimated ratio seemed conservative.

The northeast corner of Diamond Street and Helberta Avenue, facing the high school, held five sign-carrying protesters from WBC.

On the opposite side of Diamond, counter-protesters formed a human wall, two to three people deep, stretching from Sea Hawk Way to the end of the school’s administration building. Roughly 500 people were in attendance, chanting phrases such as “love is love” and “love wins” at their opponents. Many counter-protesters eventually moved to the Westboro side, attempting to flood out the picketers with chanting, signs and banners.

Though the Redondo Beach Police Department’s presence was obvious, they had little to do — protesters on both sides kept respectful, which was a point of pride for Redondo’s mayor, Steve Aspel.

“Five or six morons showed up and made the community come together. People were showing up at 6 or earlier, and look how peaceful this was,” he said. “It’s great. [Westboro] should show up again next week.”

It’s still unclear as to why, particularly, Westboro Baptist Church chose to picket outside of Redondo Union. Among their signs bearing slurs against gays and lesbians, they included one reading “God Sent the Shooter,” presumably in reference to San Bernardino shooting survivor and RUHS alumna Jen Stevens.

What is clear, though, is that the church explicitly uses its attention-grabbing tactics to spread their message. “The Lord our God has specifically put the worldwide media in place FOR WBC to preach through,” they write on their websites.

Regardless of the church’s motives, school district superintendent Dr. Steven Keller was pleased with what he saw on Monday morning.

“It’s clear that [Westboro]’s not in Kansas anymore — they’re in the land of inclusion and care,” he said. “You can’t teach something like this; this is a moment in time that’s priceless. And if the kids are a little late getting back to class, well, then they’re a little late getting back to class.”

Chase, who will be graduating from RUHS early and moving directly on to college, was among the straggling students riding an emotional high following Westboro’s exit. “They left two minutes early, and it looked like they were headed for the hills,” she said, smiling broadly.

“It was amazing and inspiring to see all of these people, knowing their support and that they will not stand for hate.” 


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