When we were looking for a house we were quite picky. I was shown one that was down the street from a factory; it was instantly scratched off the list. As was the one across from the school and the one on the busy road, and the one that was the best house in a neighborhood of worse houses.
But, imagine owning a home across the street from the Westboro Baptist Church [WBC]. I get chills. What would you do about it? I mean, day after day, ‘God Hates Fags’.
Well, Aaron Jackson, one of the founders of Planting Peace—a nonprofit organization that spreads “peace in a hurting world”—bought the house that sits directly across from the WBC compound six months ago, and this week they decided to paint it like the Gay pride Rainbow Flag.
God Loves Flags, you know.
This new project of Planting Peace—called the "Equality House"—is the first in a new campaign the group plans to wage against the group. The WBC is known for its rabid tactics of protesting what they call America’s pro-Gay, anti-God agenda, by bringing their special brand of hate to pride parades, soldier funerals and other events like the Sandy Hook memorial services.
"I read a story about Josef Miles, a 10-year-old kid who counter protested the Westboro Baptist Church by holding the sign that says 'God Hates No One.' I didn't know anything about the church or where they were located, but that story kept popping up. And one night I wondered, I got on Google Earth, and I was 'walking down the road,' and I did a 360 view. And I saw a 'For Sale' sign sitting in the front yard of a house. Right away it hit me, And immediately I thought: "—Aaron Jackson
Jackson has always wanted to get involved in LGBT activism, but didn’t know how, or what to do, until he saw that For Sale sign.
"The reason I haven't gotten into the gay rights activism is because, in a sense, it's almost silly -- it's 2013, are we really still in this position? It just seems ludicrous, but it is a real issue and kids are killing themselves. I've wanted to do something, and I knew when I saw that house for sale that it all came together. Everyone who knows me knows that I'm a little crazy and there's no red tape in my charity. When I want to do something, I do it."—Aaron Jackson
So, Jackson and Planting Peace bought the house for roughly $83,000, and Jackson lived in it for about a month, waiting to spruce the place up. In that time, he met several members of the church, including the founding Phelps family, and learned that the WBC owns a majority of the home surrounding the church.
“I walk through the area every day, and I see them running in between each other's houses. One day I was walking, and Shirley Phelps [a WBC spokesbigot, and daughter of WBC leader Fred Phelps] was on her four-wheeler. And I said, 'Hey guys, how are you?' And [Phelps and her husband] responded, 'Oh, we're good. How are you?' We had a short conversation, and she was extremely nice, and she made a joke and we all laughed. It's the craziest thing -- and it really throws you off -- because she's the type of woman who calls you "hun" and "darling" -- she's very Southern. It's like, aren't you the lady that's supposed to be casting me into hell? It's truly mind-boggling, but I can't say anything personally bad about her because she was kind to me and she made me laugh. She'd probably be fun to hang out with."—Aaron Jackson
But pleasantries aside, Jackson waited, and thought about what he might do. As, as he did so, he noticed that members of the church were watching him. They noticed that he :::gasp::: drove a Prius with an original ‘Reelect Jimmy Carter’ sticker on it, and Jackson figured that they had figured him out; a liberal. Right there in the neighborhood. And then he decided; Aaron Jackson and Planting Peace painted their home the colors of the Gay pride Rainbow flag, front to back, side to side.
"We want this house to be a message that where there's hate, there's also love. But we also want to raise awareness and capital, and we want to put all that money into creating and sustaining anti-bullying programs, along with supporting anti-bullying programs that already exist. Beyond the symbolic message of the home, [the house] will be utilized by volunteers to live here, and these volunteers will work on promoting equality anywhere in the world and managing these anti-bullying initiatives that we plan on creating."—Aaron Jackson
And don’t get him wrong, Aaron Jackson knows that the WBC feeds off this type of media attention, but, he knows, the attention they receive also brings attention to his cause, to bullying issues, to LGBT rights.
And Jackson believes that Equality House is just one more step in bringing about the end of the Westboro Baptist Church. Lately, the WBC has been facing a backlash, not just from the public at large but from some former members as well; Lauren Drain, for example, wrote a book about her life in the church and has suggested that founder Fred Phelps is one of the self-loathing closeted homosexual types—which obviously explains his over-the-top hatred of The Gays. And throw into the mix the numbers of city governments that have passed legislation aimed at limiting the group's ability to picket, and, well, you can see them beginning to fade. Jackson is confident that the WBC’s loss of power and relevance is just one sign of the good things still to come for the LGBT community.
"I love seeing all of these Republicans and all these people who have been anti-gay all this time jumping ship because they know they're on the wrong side of history. It's an amazing thing to see. I know we have a long way to go in fighting bigotry, but we all know the gays are going to win. It's going to happen."—Aaron Jackson
Of course, the WBC, never one to face reality, to understand facts, has a different side to the story. The church released this statement:
"We thank God for the Sodomite Rainbow House. It is right across the street from the ONLY church that loves people enough to tell them the Bible truth about the filthy, soul-damning, nation-destroying sin of sodomy...The Sodomite Rainbow house helps shine a bright spotlight on this!"
And even Shirley Phelps-Roper says she loves Equality House:
“I love it. What he does is he keeps the eyes of the whole earth on this message. Now everyday all people are thinking about is God will not have same sex marriage.”
Actually, Shirley, what Aaron Jackson and Planting Peace have done is show that, even alongside hate and intolerance, love and acceptance takes a stand. He’s shown that bullies don’t always win; sure, they might win a battle here and a skirmish there, but, in the end, everyone will see that his little Rainbow House stood up to, what you think, is the mighty Westboro Baptist Church and didn’t back down.
And never will.