Westboro Picket of Vassar Draws a Large Crowd

Mar 1, 2013

Credit WAMC/Allison Dunne

Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church members picketed Vassar College Thursday, condemning the school for embracing the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender student community. Upwards of one-thousand counter-protestors gathered on the Town of Poughkeepsie campus, to affirm social justice and denounce hatred.

Amanda Moody is a junior at Vassar. She participated in the counter-protest, as did her mother, father, and younger brother.

That was her mother chiming in at the end. Amanda’s mother and father wore t-shirts that said, “I am proud of my gay daughter”. And Amanda’s brother, Austin, sported a t-shirt saying he supports his sister.

When four Westboro Baptist Church members picketed Vassar College as opposed to another school Thursday, the question of “Why Vassar?” was answered differently. For Steve Drain, who is a spokesman for Westboro:

Westboro had picketed the funeral of General Norman Schwarzkopf at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point before heading to Vassar. Again, here’s Steve Drain.

For Pastor Joseph Tolton, with the Fellowship of Affirming Ministries in New York City, who delivered the keynote address during the Vassar counter-protest:

Chris Roellke is the Dean of Students at Vassar, and a professor of education.

Pickets by Westboro church members are often met with counter-protests, across the country. And, earlier this week, it was reported that a measure aimed at preventing groups like Westboro from protesting at funerals advanced in the North Carolina state legislature.

Joshua Triola is a student at Dutchess Community College, and he attended the counter-protest with a few of his DCC friends to support Vassar.

That was Pastor Tolton, with more of his speech.

Dean Roellke says Thursday’s counter-protest was not the culmination of a week’s worth of events.

When the Vassar community learned a few weeks prior of Westboro’s intent to picket, Vassar Senior Shane Trujillo says it brought people in the community closer.

Sarah Harvey is also a Vassar senior.

Many who oppose Westboro’s pickets say the church members spread messages of hate, while Westboro’s Steve Drain says they are just doing what they’re supposed to do – spread the word of the Bible.

In the days leading up to the picket, students formed “Do Something VC”, a group aimed at encouraging inclusion and raising funds for social justice efforts on campus and in the local community.  Kevin Titter is a Vassar sophomore, and says he is part of a subset of “Do Something VC” in the arts; among student theater makers, who are planning a reading based on the Westboro visit.

He says he hopes to continue the project through the rest of the semester.

Vassar alumnus Josh de Leeuw started a fundraiser, hoping to raise $4,500, or $100 per minute that Westboro had planned to protest. The money is for the Trevor Project, a national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth. As of this morning, he had raised more than $103,000.