The founder of a Florida-based nonprofit is determined to wave gay pride in Westboro Baptist Church’s face — and he’s a lot closer than you may think.
Aaron Jackson, the 31-year-old founder of the charity Planting Peace, has long considered himself a gay rights advocate, but says he never knew quite how to get involved in LGBT activism. But then he read about Josef Miles, a nine-year-old who staged his own counter-protest against the notorious Westboro Baptist Church by simply holding up a small sketchpad that read “God Hates No One.”
That’s where Jackson got the idea to formally fight back against Westboro’s hateful activism:
“I didn’t know anything about the church or where they were located, but that story kept popping up. And one night I wondered, Where is this church? I got on Google Earth, and I was ‘walking down the road,’ and I did a 360 view. And I saw a ‘For Sale’ sign sitting in the front yard of a house. Right away it hit me, Oh my gosh, I could buy a house in front of the WBC! And immediately I thought: And I’m going to paint that thing the color of the pride flag.“
Wasting no time, Planting Peace bought a house across from the Westboro Baptist Church compound in Topeka, Kansas for about $83,000. The independent church is infamous for protesting military funerals and picketing around the country with such colorful messages as “God Hates Fags” and “Thank God for Dead Soldiers,” and the compound stands complete with a “God Hates America” banner and an upside-down flag.
But Jackson was determined to spruce up his new place, despite its unsightly neighbors. He rallied some volunteers to paint the house in rainbow colors and hoist a gay pride flag from a 30-foot flagpole. Planting Peace has dubbed the place Equality House, and it will serve as a resource center for the nonprofit’s LGBT equality and anti-bullying initiatives.
“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,” he said. “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.”
As this story continues to go viral, lots of commenters have said Jackson’s efforts are misguided, and that Westboro will only benefit from the enhanced media coverage this story has created. But he says that doesn’t matter:
“The media has already given them such a huge platform, and I don’t see that stopping,” he said. “We’re taking the energy that’s being poured into them and turning it into something positive. This is how we plan on playing it: Use their energy and let’s turn it into something incredibly positive for the LGBT community.”
I agree completely. As long as Westboro is around, we need to show them we won’t take any of their bullying. Especially for the LGBT kids of Topeka who have grown up around this church — and there have to be some — this project proves that acceptance, equality and love are still out there.