The Westboro Baptist Church received a bit of a shock today from their newest neighbor! Aaron Jackson, a founder of Planting Peace (a multi-focused charity), found a way to shock and irritate the hyper-extremist and notoriously homophobic church group. Out of curiosity, after hearing the story of a young boy who protested the organization, Jackson had decided to look up the address of the church. He did what we all would do in this situation – he utilized Google Maps! In accessing the “street view” of the address he happened to notice that the house across the street from the church had a “for sale” sign on its lawn. All of the sudden – eureka! He was a man with a plan.
Backtracking a little bit, it’s important to note that Aaron Jackson had been looking for a way to involve himself with the so-called “gay rights movement”, but he hadn’t found his niche…until seeing that house. According to Jackson, his thought process was something like “Oh my gosh, I could buy a house in front of the WBC!” Which was logically followed by “And I’m going to paint that thing the color of the pride flag.” Thus, Jackson’s plan to peacefully protest the WBC had begun to take root.
Fred Phelps, the man whose extended family makes up almost the entirety of the church’s followers, started the Westboro Baptist Church in 1955 in Topeka, KS. Contrary to its name, the church is not affiliated with any Baptist denomination. The hate-group wasn’t spotlighted nationally until 1998, when it famously protested the funeral of Matthew Shepard. Shepard was a young gay man who was beaten and left for dead in Laramie, WY, whose story gained international media attention. The WBC is also known for picketing the funerals of American soldiers who are killed overseas, which has earned them serious condemnation from even the Ku Klux Klan.
Planting for Peace did end up purchasing the property, for about $83,000, and set its plan in motion. Jackson had been living in Topeka for a couple of months before deciding to act on it, but today was that day. He and a group of volunteers came out today to paint the house to match the flag they have flying above it – the rainbow flag, iconic as a symbol of the fight for LGBT equality. They have decided to name it the Equality House in honor of the aforementioned fight. Jackson plans on using the house to give living space to volunteers in his newly conceived anti-bullying initiatives as they come into effect.
Although the media tends to give the Westboro Baptist Church a lot of attention for their outspoken hatred, Jackson is not concerned that his own message will be drowned out. As a matter of fact, he’s feeling encouraged by it. According to the Huffington Post, he has said the following on the subject: “We’re taking the energy that’s being poured into them and turning it into something positive. This is how we plan on playing it: Use their energy and let’s turn it into something incredibly positive for the LGBT community.”
Interestingly enough, the Equality House’s neighbors (almost all members of the WBC) aren’t too concerned with the “goofy rainbow house” across the street from the church. As one probably expects, the sentiment seems to be that the members of Planting for Peace are just declaring themselves to be sinners, and the WBC claims to remain unworried. We’ll see what happens when the organization begins its active quest for LGBT equality right in their neighborhood, though. I would say this is an organization to keep an eye on.
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