The Westboro Baptist Church is basically a Bible-based hate group known for its attempts to shock the nation — picketing military funerals, protesting the United States Holocaust Memorial museum, calling President Barack Obama the “Antichrist,” and most recently attempting to protest a vigil for the victims of the Sandy Hook shooting to name a few — but this time, they were the ones receiving quite a shock. The church is most infamous for it’s condemnation of homosexuals, so imagine their surprise when they found out “straight ally” Aaron Jackson had purchased the house right across the street from their Topeka, Kansas headquarters and was painting it the rainbow colors of the Gay Pride Flag!
Jackson is one of the founders of Planting Peace, a progressive nonprofit organization that aims to spread “peace in a hurting world.” Jackson’s efforts were inspired by Josef Miles, the 10-year-old boy who counter-protested the church’s protesting efforts by holding up a sign that read, “God Hates No One.” Jackson had never heard of the Westboro Baptist Church before hearing of that story and decided to use Google Earth to locate the church. It was then that he noticed that the house across the street was for sale. Suddenly, Jackson had an idea. He told the Advocate, “I feel the Westboro Baptist Church is the poster child… that’s pushing inequality… So I thought the best place to start was to counter the Westboro Baptist Church’s message.”
Here’s a video report from CNN’s Jeanne Moos:
The newly-painted house is intended to be turned into “The Equality House,” which will be a drop-in center that supports LBGT rights and anti-bullying efforts to end teen suicide. He has been living in the house for the past month and a half while the project was being kept under wraps. By Wednesday, however, hundreds of people and news media outlets from around the country came to see the house, which debuted its new Gay Pride Flag colors earlier this week. Jackson told TIME, “Usually people come here to check out the Church… now the attention is on this house.”
Jackson told the Huffington Post, “We want this house to be a message that where there’s hate, there’s also love. But we also want to raise awareness and capital, and we want to put all that money into creating and sustaining anti-bullying programs, along with supporting anti-bullying programs that already exist… Beyond the symbolic message of the home, [the house] will be utilized by volunteers to live here, and these volunteers will work on promoting equality anywhere in the world and managing these anti-bullying initiatives that we plan on creating.”
The Westboro Baptist Church has responded with seeming gaiety (pardon the pun): daughter of church founder Fred Phelps, Shirley Phelps-Roper said, of the house, “I love it… What he does is he keeps the eyes of the whole earth on this message. Now everyday all people are thinking about is God will not have same sex marriage.”
The majority of houses in the neighborhood are owned by church members. Jackson said that he encountered Shirley before he painted the house; he said that she was nice to him and they shared a laugh. He also said he’s seen members of the church photographing the house, including top-ranking church member, Steve Drain, whose daughter, Lauren Drain, recently wrote a book about her decision to leave the church and who suggests that Fred Phelps himself could possibly be gay. The church may be grinning and bearing it now, but Time reports, “Jackson said he’s confident that the church is already wary of his presence and may be expecting some sort of action from him.”
The Equality House is accepting donations to their anti-bullying initiative program that aims to decrease teen suicide. Visit their site for more information.