Westboro Baptist Church exits protest early, virtually ignored by Wichita State

Chance Swaim

Westboro Baptist Church protesters stood on a street corner Friday, waving signs and shouting at passing cars, but the gusty winds drowned the sound of the group’s hateful chants and nearly inaudible music.

The protest of Wichita State’s inclusion efforts gathered only a handful of spectators; most of them were from off campus. Protestors from the Topeka-based church — known for their provocative pickets of veterans’ funerals and LGBTQ rights — were originally scheduled to be on campus from 1:10 to 1:45 p.m. Friday.

Almost 20 minutes earlier than scheduled, the six protesters packed up their windblown signs, got back into their minivan and drove away.

University President John Bardo sent an email to faculty, staff and students via Shocker Blast on Thursday, notifying them of the protest and urging them to ignore it.

“They have a right to speak, but no right to an audience,” Bardo said in the statement.

“Ignoring their protest deprives them of the fuel that drives their cause,” he went on.

The group protested on the southwest corner of 21st and Oliver Streets — an intersection slowed by construction cones and a three-vehicle pile-up — beside a pile of dirt and a fenced-off construction hole.

Despite the slowed traffic — and contrary to the lack of attention they received in the short amount of time they protested — WBC seemed to view the protest differently.

“Nice flow of traffic & flood of potty mouth entitled students is our report,” WBC tweeted during the protest.

On the southeast corner of the intersection, a counter-protest — consisting of three Friends University students and one WSU student — received more attention from passing cars than the Westboro protesters.  Cars honked and waved to show their support.

The Friends students held signs that read, “I’m a proud fag,” “God Loves Gays” and “Jesus Hearts Lesbos.”

Elanor Ferris, a member of Unity Church, a non-denominational church across the street from the protest, said she welcomes homosexuals and transgender people alike. She came to the intersection to see the protest unfold.

Ferris said she was glad to see the Friends students wielding signs that spoke of God’s love for the LGBTQ community.

“Thanks for saving the day,” she said to the students. “We need to drive them out with as much love as we can.”

“I want to let all the people in my community know that we still support them and we love them no matter what they do,” said Kaylie Everett, one of the counter-protesters from Friends.

“Even though we don’t go to WSU, us college students need to stick together,” said Jimmy Iniguez of Friends. “Times are tough already as it is. All we need to do is love each other.”

Few passersby interacted with the protesters, and those that did honked or shouted inaudibly.

The protesters held their usual signs dooming America and condemning what they regard as “sin.”

They also played their own versions of songs, such as “The Terror Rolls” (Garth Brooks’ “The Thunder Rolls”) and “God’s Love” (Macklemore’s “Same Love”).

The poor audio quality and the strong winds combined to mute the offensive lyrics, and all that could be heard was the faint melody of the original instrumentals.

Meanwhile, at the center of campus, Pi Delta Phi, the National French Honors Society, held a peace rally as a show of unity and solidarity with France after the recent attacks in Paris. 

The rally surrounded a blue, red and white banner twisted around the Danseuse Espagnole (“Spanish dancer”) sculpture in the center of the Plaza of Heroines. 

Amanda Babcock, vice president of Pi Delta Phi, said the timing of the rally — although not planned to take place at the same time as the Westboro Baptist Church protest — was fitting.

“It’s appropriate to have these people on campus who love each other and are willing to have dialogue and come together, and then you have the opposite end of the spectrum at 21st and Oliver,” Babcock said.

About 50 students, faculty and staff attended the rally throughout the day Friday.

Student Body President Joseph Shepard said he wanted the focus to be on the peace rally.

“What they want for our students to do is to feed into their negativity,” Shepard said of the church from Topeka. “What better way to combat the ignorance and negativity than with a peace rally.”  

Shepard said Westboro had been planning their visit to WSU for four months prior to the events this week, and after reaching an agreement with Bardo earlier this week regarding Shepard’s list of five demands, the news of their early arrival piled on to an already eventful week.

University Police watched the protest from a distance and made sure no problems occurred on WSU property.

“I’m really proud of our Shockers today,” said Sara Morris, chief of University Police. “Our students didn’t give them what they wanted.”

Morris said Westboro surprised the university with their visit. The church was originally planning to protest in December, when students weren’t on campus.

“It will probably be a couple years before they come back,” Morris said. “When they don’t get the confrontation they want, they leave.”

Contributing: Evan Pflugradt and Brennen Smith