Westboro Baptist Church’s Shirley Phelps-Roeper decided to finally set foot in Rhode Island to protest the first day of the state’s new marriage equality law. On the morning of Aug. 1, Phelps-Roeper led a foursome of protesting WBC members as they took to the curbs of Providence with their anti-gay rhetoric. The group toured the backside of the statehouse, near Smith St. and continued on to Waterman St. near Brown University.
Approximately 40 anti-WBC protesters had similarly taken to the streets of Providence to meet the Kansas church group. By 11:15 a.m. that morning, Phelps-Roeper led her troop back on their bus and headed out of the state. With the amount of slander and anti-gay slang words painted on their signs, shirts, and hats, locals in attendance expected the Church to file out in large numbers and loom over Rhode Island as a scary presence of fear and ignorance. One onlooker expressed sincere disappointment at the lack of WBC members and repetitive rhetoric. “It’s so unoriginal, not very creative,” he commented with a shrug.
The WBC may have brought a sub-par amount of slander to the Ocean State, but locals fired back with an overwhelming amount of support for equal marriage rights. The over-three-dozen Rhode Island protesters well outnumbered the on-hand members of the fundamentalist Kansas community church group.
Also in attendance was a Brown University medical student and his longterm partner, married earlier the same day. The couple was there to show support of their friends, members of the Warren Alpert Medical School, who joined the crowd and to hand out safe-sex practices pamphlets, condoms and lube. When asked about their thoughts on marriage equality in Rhode Island, a few of the students noted the “impressive number of allies” who came out for the protest against the WBC.
A Brown leadership workshop and summer camp member, who wished to remain nameless, said, “marriage isn’t about gender, it’s about love.”
The protest signs ranged from humorous and witty to inflammatory. Messages such as “Take your hate home!” to “Die, Phelps, die!” were painted or scrawled onto various poster boards. Some people took advantage of the fair weather by coming in costume, while others came in nearly no clothing at all. People from all walks of life, be they drag-queens, gamers, students, ex-hippies, or forward thinking high school students, came out in numbers to showcase their acceptance of the gay community and support their love.
When asked for a comment, RIC Alum Jonathan Lamantia stated, “The Westboro Baptist Church and their ways disgust me; however, they obviously have the right to do what they are doing. For this reason, we have all the more responsibility to counter their messages.”
It appears Rhode Island continues to do so. The little blue state that could remains as one of fifteen states to currently allow same-sex marriage.