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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Students Rally Against Bigot

Over one hundred people showed up to counter protest a demonstration held by notorious bigot Fred Phelps outside of campus last Tuesday afternoon. The counter protest was organized by the Queer Student Center with help from Student Body President, Terral Ainooson. In attendance were students, members of the community and several faculty members.

“I was very proud to be a UMass Boston student,” said senior Edson Bueno. “It was about students of different organizations gathering up together to make a statement that this sort of position is not welcome here.”

Phelps is the head of the extremist Westboro Baptist Church (WBC), based in Topeka, Kansas, which believes that the HIV and AIDS epidemic is God’s punishment for America’s tolerance of homosexuality. He and seven members of his group, including a small child, were protesting AIDS Awareness Day, marked at UMB annually on December first. They were chanting hate speech and holding inflammatory signs.

“It’s pathetic,” said Chad Reid, of the Queer Student Center. “It’s a cowardly and undignified way to get your message across.”

Reid was encouraged by the large turn out of students and felt positive about the future.

“We’re at the dawn of a new civil rights era,” he said.

Special Assistant to the Vice Chancellor, Kelly Meehan, said she was impressed by the organization and execution of the counter protest.

“I was happy to see the messages about love and acceptance,” she said. “Students did a really good job of being smart and being a little funny. My favorite sign was ‘Jesus had two Daddies.'”

About twenty police officers separated the two groups of protesters, which were standing on opposite sides of the street. Phelps and his group do not engage in physical violence, but they are known to incite it.

“The way he makes his money is that his daughters are lawyers, and they sue people who assault him because they’re so angry about the things he says,” said freshmen Matt Barlet. “You can’t argue with a crazy person. You can’t reason with the unreasonable. What’s important is not to send a message to him, because he is not responsive to messages, but to send a message to everybody else.”

Barlet had a previous run-in with the WBC when they picketed the funeral of a friend of his, a heterosexual soldier who died in Iraq. Phelps advocates picketing military funerals because American soldiers are fighting for a country that accepts homosexuality.

In direct response to Phelps’ protesting strategies, President Bush signed the Respect for America’s Fallen Heroes act in 2006, making it illegal to picket within 150 feet of a funeral.

Members of WBC travel the country, staging demonstrations almost daily and often facing much larger counter protests.

“This is like a double edge blade,” Barlet said of the counter protests. “If you come back with a giant force, it doesn’t just put a spotlight on your side of the story, it also puts a spotlight on Phelps. It pours fuel on the fire because then he becomes more notorious.”

Kelly Meehan said that the press can use Phelps to shed light on the massive movement against his ideas.

“It’s incumbent on the media to focus on the value of the response rather than the negativity itself,” she said. “It’s important to be talking about hate speech and what does it mean in a society in which we have first amendment rights.”

After leaving UMB, Phelps and his group protested at a high school, a synagogue and a catholic church, where they faced even bigger crowds of detractors. According to the WBC website, they stayed in Boston for two days and have since moved on to Philadelphia.

Overall, students felt uplifted by Tuesday’s events.

“It was a great victory for UMass,” said Barlet.

About the Contributor
Shira Kaminsky served as the following positions for The Mass Media the following years Editor-in-Chief: Spring 2012; 2012-2013 Managing Editor: Fall 2011 Arts Editor: Fall 2010