We’re all going to
April 27, 2011
Edition 47, Issue 14
Students gather to counter a planned protest by Westboro Baptist Church at fallen soldier’s memorial service on campus Jesse Call Managing editor More than 100 students gathered outside the Bank of Kentucky Center April 22 to support the memorial service of a fallen soldier. The rally was to counter a planned disruption by a church that is nationally known for protesting military funerals to share its religious message that “God hates America.” Westboro Baptist Church issued a press release April 19 announcing its plan to preach “in a respectful, lawful proximity to the memorial of Pvt. Brandon T. Pickering” on the campus of Northern Kentucky University. Students discovered news of this event the night before the event was scheduled and two campus organizations quickly developed a response. NKY Equality Now and Common Ground, two student organizations designed to support LGBTQ rights, spread the word about the event on social media sites. The next morning students met together to honor the fallen soldier and counter any disruption. “We’re going to make a box around them,” event facilitator Mikey Adkins told student gatherers. The facilitators said they planned to preserve the dignity of the memorial service. “It’s not just because [some] soldiers are gay,” said Becca Moore, a student who attended the event. “Its because they think its wrong for the military to protect the homosexual-loving community. That’s the community I live in, and I support the military.” The group of students that gathered included an NKU religious studies class, with the professor continuing class discussion until the event was underway. After students assembled and stood in solidarity
outside the event, it became clear to event facilitators that the Westboro protesters were not going to arrive. They then learned that Westboro had also reserved a spot near the cemetery in Alexandria where Pickering was to be buried. Adkins announced to the crowd that they were moving the rally to Alexandria. Students carpooled and rushed down to the area reserved for the Westboro protesters along U.S. 27. Students lined the road holding signs reading things like, “Support our troops,” and single words such as “love,” “loyalty” and “equality.” After students were in place, an Alexandria Police unit pulled up to the students and advised them to spread to both sides of the road in order to take up any space that the Westboro protesters might try to use. The students followed that advice. “You, sir, are a true American,” one student told the officer. Later on, students saw the funeral procession approaching. Students lined the road with their signs and flags and stood in silence as the procession passed by. “Did you feel the power of that moment?” Adkins asked rally participants, adding that he thought the faces of the family members indicated they appreciated the support. Adkins then led the group in reciting the pledge of allegiance to the flag. The Westboro protesters never arrived. Dustin Robinson, one of the event’s facilitators, said that the purpose of the event was to offer the family encouragement to counter what they felt would be troubling messages from the protesters. “We wanted to show the friends and family. We didn’t want them to have to go through that without having some encouragement as well,” Robinson
said. While Robinson made clear the event was designed not as a protest, but as a chance to honor an American hero, he acknowledged that students would not have gathered to show support at the memorial service if it had not been for the threat of Westboro picketing. “I think that Westboro -- the potential for them to be there served as a catalyst for so many students to get involved,” Robinson said. “[Otherwise,] I think students would have just allowed the family to have the day.” A media request sent to Westboro Baptist Church was kicked back by its server and its media representative was unreachable by phone. However, a media release explained why they had targeted the funeral. “Military funerals have become pagan orgies of idolatrous blasphemy, where they pray to the dunghill gods of Sodom & plays taps to a fallen fool,” the church wrote in its press release. The group seemed to anticipate that the community and students might respond. “Pvt. Pickering gave his life for the constitutional right of WBC to warn America. To deny us our First Amendment rights is to declare to the world that Pvt. Pickering died in vain, and that America is a nation of sodomite hypocrites,” the church also wrote. The release ended with the phrase “Thank God for IEDs.” An IED is an improvised explosive device, a common weapon used by militants to attack U.S. soldiers. Pickering died in Germany after being injured in battle in Afghanistan. The Northerner‘s Cassie Stone contributed to this report.
“It’s not just because [some] soldiers are gay,” said Becca Moore. “Its because they think its wrong for the military to protect the homosexual-loving community.”
Photos by Cassie Stone More than 100 NKU students gathered at the Bank of Kentucky Center April 22 to show support for gays in the military and for Pvt. Brandon T. Pickering’s family. Westboro Baptist Church never arrived, but most of the students relocated to the intersection of U.S. 27 and W. Main Street in Alexandria to show support when the funeral procession made its way to Alexandria Cemetery.