Students generally are on the receiving end of lessons taught in school, it was the young men and women of the District of Columbia’s Wilson High School who provided the instruction. Not only did they deliver a powerful message about love and acceptance, but also they proved the best way to deal with those who preach intolerance is to show just how isolated they – and their backward thinking – are.
The school was the target Monday of a protest by members of the Westboro Baptist Church, an unaffiliated denomination whose homophobic protests at military funerals have given it a notoriety outmatched by its tiny numbers. The Kansas group announced in May it would picket Wilson to protest the school’s second annual gay pride day. That event last week garnered widespread national attention when the school’s principal, 50-year-old Pete Cahall, made an emotional announcement that he is gay.
Cahall’s forthright courage and the unhesitating acceptance of his announcement by the Wilson school community set the template for Monday, when students mounted a rally to counter the Westboro demonstration. The event attracted hundreds of alumni, parents, elected officials, and supporters from neighboring schools in a wonderful demonstration of community.
And what of the Westboro protesters? There were but 10 around the corner from the school, standing in silence, holding up signs pathetic in their disapproval. Isolated from the festivities and for the most part ignored, wrote student Annie Rosenthal in the school newspaper.
It is satisfying when a message of intolerance goes unheard. Even better is that a group that tried to sound that call gave rise to people – gay and straight, of different ages, races and religions – coming together to fight hate and bigotry.