Westboro Baptist Dwarfed by Vanderbilt Counter-Protest


Kit McGean

Last Monday morning, students from Vanderbilt and the University School of Nashville gathered together counter-protest the controversial Westboro Baptist Church’s presence on campus.

Best known for its speech against the LGBTQ+ community, and commonly considered a hate group, the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) often pickets places and events its members consider “sinful” or against their particular interpretation of the Bible. Some of their better known protests have taken place at military funerals, where WBC members have held signs reading “God Hates the U.S.A” and “Thank God for Dead Soldiers”. The group believes that U.S. deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq are God’s punishment for America’s tolerance of homosexuality and abortion.

The Westboro Baptist Church’s protest at Vanderbilt was sparked by a news segment on Fox News’ On the Record with Brit Hume called “Campus Craziness” earlier this year. In “Campus Craziness,” Hume reports on university events he finds “outrageous” or overly liberal from his conservative perspective. In September, he featured recent efforts made by Vanderbilt’s Senate Faculty Gender Inclusivity Task Force to make our campus more inclusive of the LGBTQ+ community.

Back in March, the Task Force created a poster “to offer ways to affirm [their] commitment to gender inclusion on campus.” Entitled “What Should I Call You?” the poster featured different pronouns (including non-binary pronouns such as ze/zir/zirs and ze/hir/hirs) and the proper ways to use them, as well as a list of “proactive ways to affirm Vanderbilt’s commitment to gender inclusion” such as introducing oneself with their pronouns, asking others for theirs, and how to apologize if somebody the wrong pronouns for someone else. The Task Force also gave Vanderbilt staff and faculty the option to add their own pronouns to their name badges, and it also helped the Office of LGBTQI Life create the pronoun preference buttons seen on campus this semester.

Hume’s report primarily centered on this poster and its guidelines for gender inclusivity. While he pointed out that Vanderbilt had told Fox that the Task Force’s recommendations were “not formal university policy but an effort to create a welcome and inclusive campus,” the Westboro Baptist Church came to a different conclusion. In keeping with their transphobic history, the Church felt it had no choice but to picket Vanderbilt for its transgressions against God and give the school the opportunity to repent.

Their protest was shrouded in mystery. While WBC had publicly announced when protestors arrive on campus, no one knew their exact location or numbers. Vanderbilt Lambda, the university’s undergraduate gender-sexuality alliance, decided to organize a counter-protest that focused on love and supporting the LGBTQ+ community, organizing a group outside of Vanderbilt’s Central Library. When one of Lambda’s scouts called in with the location of the Westboro picketers, Lambda moved to the West End United Methodist Church to stand across the street and counter-protest.

Over 100 Vanderbilt and USN students participated, cheering and chanting, “Vanderbilt united, we’ll never be divided.” Their efforts dwarfed those of the Westboro Baptist Church, which was able to muster a grand total of three protesters.