When the Westboro Baptist Church announced it would picket at Western Illinois University, the school and the community got together to create a counter-demonstration: The Rally for Love.
Westboro is known for its extreme anti-gay rhetoric. Half-a-dozen of its members protested at WIU on Saturday because the Leatherneck football team was hosting Indiana State University, which has an openly gay player. The Westboro members were confined to an area on the far northeast edge of campus.
The Rally for Love took place down the road from there. A few hundred people from throughout the region braved the chilly and rainy conditions for live music, speeches, and camaraderie. Some of those at the rally waved rainbow flags and little heart-shaped rainbow stickers were passed out for people to wear.
WIU student Dannie Kyle helped organize the rally and said she was blown away by the turnout. “I’m just really impressed to see how the community supports people loving each other.”
Kyle said organizers are already talking about making the Rally for Love an annual event, though they will strive for a date earlier in the fall when there is a better chance for warmer weather.
Tri States Public Radio asked a few rally-goers what they might say to Westboro members if they got a chance to sit down and talk to them.
Katie Stewart of Galesburg: I would tell them that they are in a minority in the country despite their attempts at gaining publicity. And that while they might continue to gain acknowledgement, it’s not going to work because – as you see here today – we have hundreds of people for this Rally for Love and only a handful of members for the Westboro rally. So I think it’s time for them to give up.
Vajo Necak of Macomb: I keep thinking that maybe they had a sad childhood or something. Maybe they had difficulty growing up. Their negative energy, as you can see, generates much more positive energy. It would be great if they could join us and see how beautiful things are. I really enjoy this and I think more people need to come out and demonstrate this beautiful energy that we have here.
Chris Sutton of Macomb: If they truly believe that, it’s hard to get a sense of why that’s their message. There are a lot more of us than there are of them. And we are about being together as a community. If people are going to hate, they’re going to hate. But we’re going to love better.
WIU student and Rally for Love co-organizer Dannie Kyle: If I wanted to speak on biblical terms with them, I can say that God is about love. God is love. Jesus is love. Jesus loves all. Love your neighbor. And he who is without sin can cast the first stone – and nobody is. So who are they to come here and protest against a football player who they don’t agree with?