Westboro Baptist Church a no-show, students rally anyway

A multitude of students went to Wells Ave. Tuesday night to support Judy Shephard and to counter-protest the Westboro Baptist Church, who did not show up as planned. Photo by Emily Waller / [email protected]

On Tuesday night, approximately 100 students from Marquette, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design and as far as Madison converged to stage a counter-protest against the infamous Westboro Baptist Church.

The WBC, an anti-gay group, had made a statement on its website saying members would be protesting Shepard’s appearance on campus.

The group did not come.

However, students remained to brave the cold and rally outside the Weasler Auditorium to show solidarity for Judy Shepard and her mission to support the LGBT Community.

“Look around and you see the communities that have gathered … The WBC is not strong — we are,” said Alex Peters, a freshman from UW-Milwaukee. “We are not going to take it — they are the minority in this united country.”

Shepard’s speech to a packed Weasler Auditorium Tuesday night was planned in accordance with the Marquette Department of Performing Arts’s performances of “The Laramie Project,” which runs until Sunday in the Helfaer Theatre. “Laramie” tells the heartbreaking story of Shepard’s son, Matthew, who was kidnapped, tortured and murdered at the age of 21 in Wyoming in 1998 for his homosexuality.

Andi Woodward, a student at MIAD, creator of the “Support Matthew Shepard’s Mom Against Protestors” event, and face of the protest was pleasantly pleased by the number of students who came out to show their support for Judy Shepard and the LGBT community. She was not surprised the WBC did not show.

“The amount of people that came is insane,” Woodward said.  “This is a positive moment for Judy and the LGBT community. Right now we are telling WBC that ‘we don’t want your hate — we want your support and equality.’”

The WBC’s message evoked strong reactions from diverse student organizations, residents and students.

Steve Snowden, a junior in the College of Arts & Sciences and resident assistant in O’Donnell Hall, brought both his residents as well as pledges and fellow brothers from Kappa Sigma fraternity to the anti-protest, holding a sign that said, “Bro’s for Other Bro’s Loving Other Bro’s.”

“We are here to show support for the LGBT community and Judy Shepard,” Snowden said. “To stand up for what we believe in and to remind people and WBC that love is greater than hate.”

Snowden said, as an RA from an all-male dorm, having his residents there is a way to promote openness. This shows Marquette students that he and the university accept everyone for who they are and don’t judge, he said.

One of Snowden’s residents, Charlie Beckwith, a freshman in the College of Engineering, expanded upon Snowden’s remarks.

“It is a pleasant surprise to see all of these people out here supporting a community and Judy Shepard,” Beckwith said. “The amount of support is amazing.”

Students cheered and chanted while cars passed, holding signs that said, “Gay is OK,” and “Love is love,” as Woodward spoke to the crowd.

“Shout!  I want you all to hear your numbers!  You are beautiful and are standing up for a wonderful cause!” Woodward said.

Students were uplifted when they heard Woodward’s word and felt that they were making an impact by being there.

“I have gone here for three years and have been told numerous times that ‘I’m the difference,’ but not until now have I truly felt that I am the difference and I am making an impact,” Snowden said.

Many students were pleased the WBC did not make an appearance and felt it showed more about the organization than their presence would have.

Many students planned on attending Shepard’s talk in the Weasler Auditorium after showing their support.

“We are a large group here to support Judy Shepard and are here fighting with our hearts,” said Samantha Fox, a freshman at UWM.

Check out our video of the protest, compiled by Marquette Television.

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