California Responds with Dancing, Music and Love to Westboro Visits- UPDATED | Not in Our Town

California Responds with Dancing, Music and Love to Westboro Visits- UPDATED

CA: In January and February, the Westboro Baptist Church, a hate group from Topeka, Kansas, targeted schools, religious institutions and other organizations across California.

We'd like to share a few of the creative, peaceful ways students and community members are responding to Westboro's message of hate, and open our comments section up to spread the word about any other unity activities taking place across the state.

  • Yesterday, one NIOT member posted on the NIOT Facebook page about, a pro-civil rights group that channels anger against Westboro Baptist Church into donations that support groups affected by WBC's hateful message. This week, for every minute the Phelps clan is protesting, Phelps-A-Thon will collect donations to benefit GSA’s and equality groups at the targeted high schools and Hillel.

  • Students from Lowell High School and Gunn High School have created Facebook pages with about 700-1500 fans each, to generate dialogue about acceptance and respect on campus.  * The Not In Our Town Crew went to both Lowell and Gunn High School to document the community response. Check out these videos that spotlight the creative responses by students at Gunn High (Palto Alto) and Lowell High School (San Francisco).



  • In celebration of creative community response, we decided to spark the conversation with a flash back to the past, and put a special spotlight on Newark, California's "Angel Action."  (Short video excerpted from our longer documentary "When Hate Happens Here: Not in Our Town Northern California.”)

If you have video or photos of creative actions, feel free to get in touch with us so we can share this with the larger public as well.

Have you learned about any ways the Phelps' visit has inspired people to unite in the name of acceptance? Is your church, school, or organization planning a positive event or activity? Please share your story with us below!



Rutgers Hillel just posted an inspiring video slide show to their NIOT Group page about their response to the Westboro Baptist Church's visit in 2009. Over 1000 Rutgers community members stood together for diversity and inclusion!

From the Stanford Daily: Hillel and the Jewish Student Association Friday afternoon announced a peaceful “gathering for unity and diversity” to be held next Friday morning at 8 a.m. outside Hillel, as the Westboro group is expected to arrive. (Stanford Daily article: Westboro Baptist Church plans to picket at Stanford)

The Westboro Baptist Church is messing with the wrong crowd. They posted on their website that they were going to come picket hate messages directed at Lowell High School, where I go.

Last weekend, the news spread like crazy and within about three days every single person related to Lowell knew about the upcoming picketing. Immediately facebook events started popping up regarding how us students should react.

There have pretty much been two sides as far as I can tell: the "lets just ignore them because they won't change their minds no matter what we do" side as well as the "we have to stand up for everyone being targeted. Fight hate with love" side.

As students began making their pick on which approach they would take, Lowell's faculty distributed a letter telling all students to leave the building from a different direction, completely ignore any protest or counter-protest and pretend like nothing is happening. There are quite a few students who are indeed taking that approach. The thought is, if they come to a school where there is absolutely no one there to try and incite or to insult the WBC will have wasted their time.

However, if even five people leave the school from the main entrance and stop for a second, the WBC has serve its purpose. So, instead of five why not have five hundred? Why not bring numbers that, even if the WBC doesn't open its eyes to tolerance and acceptance, will at least make some sort of impact?

Groups that spread hate messages to minorities can be ignored, it's true. But everyone who is attacked by these hate groups feels unsafe and vulnerable.

I am proud to say that the grassroots peaceful counterprotest organized by Lowell Sophomores now has over one thousand confirmed guests, with more than 700 maybes as well. The numbers may change tomorrow, when the event will actually take place, but I think it's important to show that hate and prejudices can be overcome by acceptance, love, and people who support one another.

The WBC may continue on for years doing the exact same thing, but I will be proud to say that they are not going unchecked and their unacceptable messages of hate are not being ignored.

So yes, WBC, why don't you come to one of the most liberal cities in the country and see if you can try and get some support? Chances are, you'll be sent back home to Kansas with a different feeling than when you first decided to tour San Francisco. 


Thanks so much to you and our fellow students for providing such a positive role model for community action. 

Thank you for reminding me how critically important it was to spend the morning of my only day off at the Jan. 11 organizing meeting of the San Francisco chapter of Not In Our Town.  You put so much love and cajoling into getting me there – and for all the right reasons. 

And how timely! I had just written an article for my synagogue bulletin about the need for Jews to remain engaged with the greater community – to keep a place at the table, so to speak, in public discourse.  Jews have been stigmatized and targeted throughout history, especially in the Middle Ages and during WWII.  

Coalition building, developing strong allies and making powerful connections are all critically important.  That is why I stay involved in the work of the San Francisco Interfaith Council and Jewish Community Relations Council. I really adore the folks and now I have an even deeper respect for what they (and you) do.

Because of having just attended the NIOT meeting, last Tuesday when my executive director reported to my Board that the Westboro Church / Phelps family was targeting our community, I immediately reached out to you; Victor Hwang, the city’s hate crime prosecutor (whom I sat next to at the meeting); Theresa Sparks, executive director of the city’s Human Rights Commission (who sat in front of me); and Michael Pappas of the San Francisco Interfaith Council, to find out what help, advice or practical support was available.

I am so very grateful for what you are building and am glad to be part of it.  May all of our efforts be for the good.

-Rabbi Rosalind Glazer, Congregation Beth Israel Judea, San Francisco.


Today I experienced love triumphing over hate.  It was a simple demonstration of solidarity and support on the part of Lowell High School students in the face of blatant and disgusting prejudice on their campus.  

When the Westboro Baptist Church visited Lowell, they certainly did not expect the scene to resemble a Jewish wedding. I don't know how many of the students at Lowell are gay or Jewish.  It doesn't matter.  What matters is that when the student body recognized that members of their school were going to be singled out as the targets of a fringe hate group, they did what teenagers do best. They danced, they partied, they ignored the craziness on the other side of the street.  My favorite moment was watching the students dance the hora to klezmer music blaring from the PA system, students who donned homemade yarmulkes and talises, students who stood with handmade signs that read:  "God Hates Figs."  "Jesus had two Dads". "We Aren't Going to Hell, We're Going to Dance." I was behind their Principal, Mr. Andrew Ishibashi, who stood with a bullhorn in his hand and a smile on his face. The Westboro Baptist Church made several stops on their hate tour of the Bay Area.  They probably could care less about the response from one random high school with a Gay Straight Alliance and a Jewish Student Group. 
I care. What got me was that the presence of these students pouring out their love and friendship and diversity and support for what is right and good about humanity completely obliterated and silenced the hate that had come to rest across the street from their school.  
I am very, very proud today.  
Go Lowell.

 Rabbi Sydney, 

I am just reading your words as we are editing a short video clip from yesterday's inspiring events at Lowell High School. (We will post it later today.) Just down the Peninsula at Gunn High School in Palo Alto, our film crew is documenting a peaceful action and lunch time rally in response to the Westboro hate group. We are learning so much from these young people. It is clear that they are surrounded by parents and leaders like you who have made the inclusive values of our community very clear. We look forward to sharing their voices and their actions with students and community leaders around the country.  Patrice O'Neill/Not In Our Town

Via Fiat Lux, here's a link to photos of Stanford's response to WBC's protest.

 Hillel at Stanford University, one of the institutions targeted Jan. 29 by Westboro,  together with the Jewish Student Association, invited the entire Stanford community to stand together Friday morning "for a peaceful gathering in celebration of our diversity and our unity," according to the invitation they emailed to students and campus groups.

"We chose to use the incident as an opportunity to align the campus around shared values and issue a call to action," said Adina Danzig Epelman, executive director of Hillel at Stanford.

Students were instructed not to engage the Phelps family in any way, and to bring signs with positive rather than negative messages.

About 1000 students, representing 26 co-sponsoring campus organizations, along with a number of faculty and staff, showed up at 8am for 45 minutes of musical celebration, including an unexpected bagpipe player who launched into "Amazing Grace" on the front steps of the Hillel building. It was, Epelman said, "a very broad gathering, representing the diversity of our campus." 

In a message of support earlier in the week, the Hindu and Muslim co-founders of Stanford F.A.I.T.H. wrote: "If we did not stand alongside Jews, gays and lesbians, or any other group that may be maligned this Friday, we would not be the Hindus and Muslims we strive to be."

During the event, the entire crowd read the following pledge in unison: 


Thanks so much for sharing this, Elliot. I'll embed it into your comment so folks can see the video immediately!

If you are a believer in God then you know God is omnipotent and would have created gays and lesbians for reasons as important as the reasons for the creation of straight people.

If you are an agnostic or an atheist then you know that, so far anyway, no other intelligent beings have been found in the universe.  Doesn't that make each of us precious beyond all imagining?


The only evil is in actions or speech that causes harm to other human beings. Are you harming some of the humans on the planet?

 I went to the Lowell rally last week and witnessed a truly momentous occasion. The Lowell students were counter protesting the Westboro Baptist Church who came to their school to spread messages of hate. Though their presence certainly made an impact with the horrible comments they were saying, the Lowell rally was not about hate but rather about love. The students came together with singing and dance and trumped the horrible signs of the group. It was the most colorful event I had ever been to, and after a while I hardly noticed that Westboro was even there.

I thought it would be helpful to chime in and provide some information on what I went through when Fred Phelps came to Kalamazoo, Michigan in Febraury 2008.

As a part of the Michigan Peace Team we were ready to respond in a silent nonviolent manner. We knew that the community may react in a way that could insight violence or hatred against the Westboro Baptist church group. We didn't want that. We wanted to keep the peace and allow both groups to express themselves without the community having to suffer.

This experience taught me a few things: 1) that even though the westboro baptist church didn't show (which they often don't) we were able to communicate and create a dialogue with individuals who were opposed to them. 2) coming from a place to peace allows you to build a movement against intolerance and hate.


 Hello Crystallee - So glad you were part of our Team in Kalamazoo.  It's wonderful to see so many positive, nonviolent responses to bigotry and hatred, and how it becomes the foundation for uniting a community.  Let's hope these lessons are held up far and wide as the amazing exemplars that they are.  Peace, with justice, for all - Mary Hanna/MPT



Westboro came to Long Beach, CA Feb. 19-22, spreading its anti-gay, anti-Jewish, and anti-American message outside schools, synagogues, a Jewish youth festival, and the U.S. Naval Weapons Station.


Annie Parkhurst has spent three years organizing an LGBT music and art fundraiser called Cut&Paste Rock&Roll. She used Facebook to organize a response at Wilson High School, one of the schools targeted by Phelps. Here’s why:


When I saw Wilson High School's Gay-Straight Alliance listed on Westboro’s “tour schedule,” my stomach dropped and I knew immediately we had to come together, gay or straight, to show these kids as well as the Phelps family that Long Beach stands up for the wonderful diversity that drives our city.  


During the last couple of years I've worked closely with youth groups similar to the GSA groups Westboro targets, and these kids are simply amazing. They're talented, they're smart, they're hilarious and most of all, they're innocent. I would do anything to protect them.


Since my group Cut&Paste Rock&Roll has had a hand at fund raising for these kids already, I'm hoping to raise even more money at the protest, in front of the WBC protesters, asking other protesters for pledge money to give to the GSA at Wilson High School. Instead of letting their message of hate anger us, I’m hoping it can rally us. This will be similar to the <> movement that has been turning these nasty protests into positive fundraisers all over the USA.

I received tons of messages via the Facebook page asking me to remove the event, step back and ignore the WBC while they trek through Long Beach and surrounding areas.. While I can understand people's concern for safety and the potential of satisfying the WBC's quest for media attention, considering the recent setbacks to the LGBT community with Prop8, it is more important now than ever to stand up in the face of discrimination and intolerance. To simply stand by and watch these people degrade the youngest and most vulnerable citizens in our community is unthinkable.


Even if I was the only one there, I would still stand up against the Phelps family. After being a gay teen myself, working with these youth groups in Long Beach and getting to know these kids, I can’t justify the silence some people are suggesting.


Thoughts of Annie Parkhurst, Head Organizer of WBC Long Beach Counter-Protest


To learn more about LBC's counter-protest visit :




As a Long Beach resident and long time lover of this town it made me proud to see my neighbors protest this hateful group of people. Long Beach holds the third largest gay pride parade in the United States and has long been a champion of equality and diversity of community. How Wesboro Baptist Church could think that the people of Long Beach would take their protests sitting down is beyond me. I think that Long Beach made their point and really beat the Wesboro Baptist Church at their own game. I had heard that the chuch did not show up to a few of their "scheduled appearances," which shows me that with enough love and people, a small number of angry, hateful people can be stifled. I only hope that other cities being prostested by the WBC will take a page out of Long Beach and Palo Alto book and show a united front for equal rights and a support for their community. I hope that all cities can say that hate is not welcome in their town.

 Kay, Thanks for  contributing your thoughts about the events in Long Beach. This hateful group seems to have created an opportunity for those who support inclusion to raise their voices.. Whether it is with physical presence or other kinds of actions-- hate requires a response. What's amazing about all the events in San Francisco and Palo Alto  is that not one of them resulted in confrontation with the Fred Phelps people. I hope that was true in Long Beach, as well.  Keep on. 


I spent a little bit of time watching their protest at the Jewlicious Festival on Feb. 19th. I was there because of the festival, not because of the protest, and the Jewish spirit and love of the festival made the protest look like even more of a joke. The protest was down the street from the Jewish Community Center where the festival was held, and if I hadn't read about the protest before the festival, I would've never known about it at all.

The counter protest mostly consisted of people holding signs that said funny random things, which I loved. There were also a few people shouting things, as you can see from the videos I took, and several people with cameras or just watching. I liked the signs more than the shouting.

This "church" shouldn't be taken too seriously. They are only a big deal if we treat them like they're a big deal. But making fun of them with silly signs, costumes, music, and fun is a great way to neutralize them.

Here are the pictures I took of the protest and the festival.

Here are the videos I took (they have some strong language):

Video 1 

Video 2

I believe that if we work togetehr as one, we can change the world in the way we want. If everybody do something to make a change we can get it. It is a good example while somebody is donig a march, another person could somethind else to begin the change in another place. It is a great idea to begin the change at the same time, but in different places, so the change is going to be better and easier to get. =]

I was in college when Matthew Shepard was murdered (late 80s for those who don't know). My then-girlfriend and I went to a well-attended vigil for him at the commons and held hands during it. On the way home, a truck almost sideswiped us, but that may have been an accident--there were no protests at the event.

Within the next three days, though, Westboro showed up with their signs. I'd never heard of them; almost nobody there had. They lined the street and three people went to the center of our commons and started to preach.

Our school is known for its theology department; after a bunch of fourth-year theology students walked right up on various members with their well-thumbed Bibles and went to town, some of the professors were curious enough to come out and have a listen.

At that point...okay, I'm laughing again. I don't know how many of you have talked to a doctor of theology, but usually they feel quite strongly about logic, reason, and a sound grounding in canon and history; you might even say they're religious about it. Suddenly drowning out Phelps' crowd were about eight booming voices, male and female, proclaiming quotes from Qabbalic scholars, pointing out logical fallacies, demanding declarative statements, criticizing argument structure, insisting upon proof by the rules of debate. (I remember my favorite professor of Christian Studies, a mild man in most respects, suddenly yelling "YOU HAVE NO BACKGROUND, SIR!") . Each professor's favorite students huddled around, adding to the cry or fumbling through notecard-marked texts for supporting context. After three hours, only one of the Westboro people was even engaging (badly). Finally all the professors threw up their hands, explained to the students that these guys were a lost cause, and walked away. Everyone left. After about a half an hour, the Westboro people did too.

You'd think that was the end, but they came back after lunch. This time, they got to listen to my favorite ex-born-again-still-Christian lady doctor of theology try for an hour and then tell them that she'd had more productive discourse with her toilet.

When the WBC came to West VA, a group of people decided to come  "together as a group of four friends, and used the visit as an opportunity to spread kindness through the community. In less than a week, we raised over $14,000 and gave it directly to the targeted organizations. You can do it, too."

For more inspiration and a how-to guide from these organizaers, check out-

Here is a video I found on their website: 

I am just confused, can our government make laws to STOP the protestors from organizing just during the funeral of our fallen heros? Lets say state by state we start creating law making it illigal to protest during an event. People are welcome to protest 24 hours after the funerals.


We would not be dening them thier constitutional rights!!! We would be just trying to protect our American Families. And remeber its up to the states to create laws. I bet you this would stop all this fools....

So nice to see love and peace as the answer. I believe in love's power, the only power of mother nature. Even the dark night is full of god's love. Isn't it?

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