Wilson HS Overwhelms Westboro with Love
Hundreds of Wilson High School students, faculty, community members and local leaders joined together this morning in an overwhelming display of love, tolerance, and respect. The demonstration was a counter to a protest organized by the anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church. The notorious hate group targeted Wilson High School in response to the school’s second annual pride celebration in support of the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning) community.
Wilson supporters started assembling across from the school’s main entrance at 8:00 a.m., carrying signs and banners with messages like “We Are Wilson High School,” “Intolerance is So 13th Century,” and “God is Incapable of Hating Anyone. Not Even You Westboro Baptist Church Members.”
Members of Wilson’s Gay-Straight Alliance kept order and led the assembled protestors in chants that called for equality and an end to homophobia. Among the crowd were Wilson alumni from the 60s, 70s and 80s, local church leaders, Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 3E members, and D.C. mayoral candidates Muriel Bowser and David Catania.
Cheers erupted when Wilson principal Pete Cahall walked through the crowd carrying a pride flag. Last Thursday, during Wilson’s pride celebration, Cahall came out as gay, citing his students as the inspiration for his courageous move. The school immediately embraced Cahall, and the ongoing support was evident today as students carried signs that read “We Love Wilson And Mr. Cahall.”
A block away, at the corner of Chesapeake Street and Nebraska Avenue, roughly a dozen Westboro Baptist Church protestors assembled. They carried signs that read “Repent or Perish” and “2 Gay Rights: AIDS and Hell”; others included gay slurs. While most Westboro opponents assembled in front of Wilson High School, in the designated protest area, a small group of students and community members gathered across the street from the Westboro group, protesting quietly.
Drivers passing the scene were less restrained. One gentleman extended his arm and lifted his middle finger to express what he thought of the Westboro Baptist Church. Other drivers honked their horns in support of Wilson High School.
As the counter protest dispersed around 8:45 a.m., some students sought to move their demonstration down to where the Westboro protesters stood. Metropolitan Police Department officers at the scene stepped in to disperse the crowd, while staff of Deal Middle School and Wilson High School directed students to class. The Westboro Baptist Church departed shortly thereafter, moving on to the Supreme Court.
As they reflect on today’s protests, Wilson students should be proud of the exemplary leadership they showed. Westboro Baptist Church protests are designed to spark a reaction, and draw opponents into confrontation. Wilson High School students didn’t take the bait. Instead, they turned a show of hate by a small minority into an opportunity for a celebration of love – in all the forms it takes – and a forum for the broader Wilson community to come together in solidarity. Today, they made me proud to be a Tenleytown resident.