Students rally to challenge Westboro protest tweets

Kara Taylor

Kent State students banded together Wednesday night in a pro-LGBT rally to protest the Westboro Baptist Church’s tweets about picketing Kent State for the suspension of junior wrestler Sam Wheeler.

Throughout campus, students shouted “What do we want? Equal Rights! When do we want it? Now!”  Members from PRIDE! Kent, the Kent State College Democrats and other concerned students gathered in the Kent State Student Center and snaked through campus with pro-LGBT signs in hand. Some were wrapped in the PRIDE! flag.

“We refuse to support bigotry, and it is disgusting they support hatred, they should love and accept everyone,” freshman psychology major Taylor Mason said. “If you don’t agree, then you should just stay out of it.”

Students who were not a part of the rally gathered around to see the commotion.

“I support the cause, and I believe a good march is always cool,” said Michael Vendely, a sophomore visual communication design major.

The church’s Twitter account, @WBCSays, repeatedly tweeted about “picketing” Kent State Wednesday without a time or place announced for where they would protest.

Around 8 p.m. Wednesday night, @WBCSays tweeted several pictures of protesters with anti-LGBT signs photoshopped into the pro-LGBT scene in Risman Plaza.

Video by Jason Kostura.

The church first tweeted in support of Wheeler on Monday, saying it was going to picket Kent State and wrestling Coach Jim Andrassy about Wheeler’s suspension. It followed up with a tweeted statement Tuesday calling Kent State “intolerant cowardly bullies” for suspending Wheeler after he tweeted anti-gay remarks about University of Missouri defensive end Michael Sam, who came out last week.

Kent State Police Chief John Peach said there has been security provided at these types of events for more than 40 years, and they were prepared if the protest was to have happened.

“They do have the freedom of speech and we don’t want to violate that, as long as they don’t violate the rules of the university,” Peach said in an interview Wednesday afternoon. “I know there is great speculation about them coming here, but the university is not overly concerned about them coming.”

University spokesman Eric Mansfield declined to comment on behalf of the university and the athletics department.

He referred questions about protests to Kent State’s policy register regarding demonstrations which states that the university permits “demonstrations, marches and non-university affiliated speakers without prior registration” on campus if they do not use sound amplification and do not disrupt normal university activities.

PRIDE! Kent president Brandon Stephens said he was “mostly shocked that such a well-known, infamous organization is producing such an act at our university.”

Stephens sent an email to members warning them to be careful.

“They are dangerous, hateful and mean people,” Stephens wrote in the email. “Things often get heated when they are involved. A bunch of these people are lawyers, so be careful, know your rights and know their rights.”

He also reminded members of PRIDE’s mission to “send a message of hope and solidarity to the rest of the students at Kent State University,” and instructed them to go to PRIDE’s offices in the first floor of the Student Center for more information.

Westboro Baptist Church did not respond to calls about when they plan to picket.

Students at the University of Missouri built a human wall in support of Michael Sam last Saturday to block off Westboro protesters picketing at the university’s NCAA basketball game against Tennessee.

The Westboro protest group arrived at Missouri with anti-gay hate signs, and the students who formed the wall sang their alma mater with their backs to the Westboro Baptist Church.

Contact Kara Taylor at [email protected]