GUSA exec comes out in support of GUPride’s counterprotest of Westboro Baptist Church

832138887_484754In a statement released Thursday, April 23, GUSA President Joe Luther (COL ‘16) and Vice President Connor Rohan (COL’ 16) announced their support of GUPride’s solidarity event in response to the Westboro Baptist Church’s planned protest on April 27.

“Joe and I will be participating on Monday, and we urge the rest of the student body to join in as well,” Rohan wrote in the statement.

According to GUPride President Campbell James (SFS ‘17), many different members of the Georgetown community will be present at the event, such as various student groups, Rabbi Rachel Gartner, and Fr. Raymond Kemp, who will give a closing interfaith prayer.

“I think it’s really important that this message of support and solidarity comes from all parts of campus and from students who identify with all sorts of different views,” James said. “It’s just really a unifying occasion.”

A two week fundraiser, co-sponsored by GUPride and several graduate LGBTQ organizations, will also take place in response to the protests to raise money for Casa Ruby, a local LGBTQ community center, and the Trevor Project, a national suicide prevention organization. On Monday after the protests, there will be an event in Bulldog Tavern supporting the fundraiser.

While the GUPride solidarity will take place in Red Square, Breanne Kincaid (COL ‘16) has planned a counter protest that will directly engage the WBC protesters at the front gates. Kincaid, though, does not see her event in conflict with the GUPride solidarity event.

“The part of the community that finds safe spaces helpful will not find a similar environment on the front line of the demonstration,” Kincaid wrote in an email to the Voice. “Similarly, I believe that those who directly want to take a stand as a symbol against the oppression of the WBC and other intolerant groups won’t find the the GUPride event meets their needs. The events serve fundamentally different purposes, which is why I believe that they are both vital to the success of the campus movement.”

Additionally, Kincaid plans to meet with the Georgetown University Police Department, the Center for Student Engagement, and James before the counter protest in order to guarantee the safety of the counter protestors and those participating in GUPride’s solidarity event.

According to both Luther and James though, direct interactions with the WBC may not be an effective way to address the WBC protesters’ presence at Georgetown.

“Essentially we believe the GUPride event is a chance to celebrate the many elements of campus life which make Georgetown a great place to go to school,” Luther said in an email to the Voice. “While we understand the motivations behind holding a counter protest, we do not see it as a way to hold a meaningful dialogue and serves to feed into the WBC’s attention-seeking habits.” Luther still noted the importance of all student responses of protest to the WBC’s agenda.

In a press release from Tuesday, April 21, the WBC wrote that it had engaged Georgetown students in past protests in D.C., like at the Supreme Court decision in the Snyder v. Phelps case, which allows the WBC to protest on public sidewalks despite the potential for a tort of emotional distress.

“[They] got good preaching both inside and outside [the Supreme Court]. Yet they’ve been wanting more direct preaching – with clear, unapologetic, faithful words from the ambassadors of Christ at WBC,” the WBC wrote in the press release. “So we hope to oblige them as they clean up from their any-cause-for-a-drunken-celebration called Georgetown Days!”

In light of the protest and counter protests, Vice President for Mission and Ministry Fr. Kevin O’Brien, S.J., and Vice President for Student Affairs Todd Olson sent out a campus wide email on April 20 confirming that the WBC had received a permit to protest and providing a list of resources for students whom the protests may affect.

“As an institution that values inter-religious understanding, inclusion, and respect for all persons, we find the viewpoints of this group offensive, degrading and hateful,” O’Brien and Olson wrote. The administrators continued to write, “As always, we are proud of the civil discourse that all of you engage in as members of this extraordinary community.”

For Kincaid, it is important that these events are visible so that members of the Georgetown community and those outside of it can see student support of human rights.

“My goal here is for each student in attendance to truly feel what it means to stand up for something they believe in,” Kincaid wrote. “The war for civil rights was not won by hiding from ignorant commentary. It was won in solidarity, when members of all communities came together in support of a common goal.”

James echoed her sentiments saying, “I think this will send an important message to closeted students or closeted prospective students showing that Hoyas take care of Hoyas.”

Photo: Andrew Sullivan/The Georgetown Voice

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