Kaitlynn Moore graduated from Manitou Springs High School in May. She returned Monday to counter hate with love.
“This school changed my perspective on everything, especially how much love is in this world,” she said. “So I wanted to show my love and maybe teach people love is probably a better way to live life than hate.”
Moore, now a Pikes Peak Community College student, was among a crowd of more than 50 gathered at the high school early Monday in objection to eight protesters from the controversial Westboro Baptist Church, based in Topeka, Kan.
Hoisting large signs with anti-gay messages such as “God Hates Pride,” “Free Will is a Satanic Lie” and “Parents Are to Blame — Mourn, Repent,” Westboro demonstrators sang to loud religious-themed music they blared in a police-designated area across the road from the high school.
Counter-protesters, many wearing rainbow colors signifying support for the LGBTQ movement, were contained to a sidewalk in front of the school.
Police from Manitou Springs and Colorado Springs and deputies from the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office were on hand, but no violence occurred.
After about half an hour of demonstrating, Westboro protesters were shuttled away in two minivans that pulled up, just as some counter-protesters wearing masks walked closer to them, blasted air horns and yelled such phrases as “God Hates You.”
Jonathan Hall, senior pastor at First Christian Church in downtown Colorado Springs, carried a sign that read: “As a Christian, I Apologize for How Jesus’ Name has been Associated with Hate.”
“Homophobia is an intentional problem that as a Christian, I need to deal with,” he said. “I want the Christian voice to be heard; I don’t believe Westboro Baptist Church represents the Christian voice.”
Instead of dividing his congregation, Hall said, the event unified members of varied political backgrounds and beliefs, several of whom joined him Monday.
“It’s brought us together and enabled us to raise money for local groups,” he said.
Manitou High School students launched a kindness campaign last week to offset the expected Westboro protest and held a tailgate fundraiser Friday night. Proceeds will benefit Inside/Out Youth Services, which supports LGBTQ teens, the Mission Critical Veterans Relief Fund and Urban Peak of Colorado Springs — now called The Place — which assists homeless teens.
For more than 20 years, Westboro members have protested at military veterans’ funerals and memorial services across the nation as well as churches, schools and government buildings. Most mainstream Christian denominations have condemned the actions of Westboro, which is monitored as a hate group by the Anti-Defamation League and other anti-discrimination watchdogs.
Manitou Springs School District 14 officials said they did not know why Manitou Springs High School was targeted.
Manitou’s high school and middle school delayed Monday’s start of classes by two hours, the district announced Sunday night.
A group named the Parasol Patrol, wielding large umbrellas, came from Highlands Ranch in Douglas County to shield students from the protesters, but the protest ended before students arrived on campus.
“It’s not about protesting the Westboro Baptist Church; it’s about supporting the LGBTQIA+ kids and families and the community,” said Cathy Lees, a member of the group.
Keeping students safe was the city’s top priority, said Manitou Springs Mayor Ken Jaray, who watched the protest.
“We’re honoring and respecting First Amendment rights for anyone who wanted to show up and providing them the opportunity and space,” he said.
Coronado High School graduate Flynn McClellan, who works as a drafter designer, wore a clown costume and waved a sign that said, “I Thought I was a Sad Clown, But Yikes.”
“I wanted to look as silly as they look and sound,” he said. “I care about the people these people want to make feel unwelcome, even though they are the outsiders in our community.
“What they’re doing is needless, vulgar and hateful.”
McClellan said he doesn’t identify as a religious person, but “I understand enough about the Bible to know that’s not what it’s about.”
On Sunday, Westboro members also protested at Sacred Heart Catholic Church on West Colorado Avenue, where a giant rainbow flag hung from a balcony across the street. A protest was cut short at The Sanctuary in Old Colorado City and an appearance at a third location — Church for All Nations — never happened at all.
Said Hall, the pastor, “I’d be honored if they protested at my church because if they did, that would mean we were doing something right.”
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