CLAYTON, Mo. (KMOX) – By the time about a half-dozen members of the controversial Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church arrived at Clayton High School Monday morning, they were greeted by hundreds of counter-protestors waving rainbow flags and chanting “Love conquers all” to drown out the Westboro contingent.
School officials were glad that barriers, and a heavy police presence, kept things peaceful.
“It’s been as much of a non-event as something like this can possibly be,” said Clayton Schools spokesman Chris Tennill as the Westboro protest was winding down after less than a half-hour. “Clayton police have done an excellent job putting a plan in place to keep our students, our staff, and all of our visitors safe this morning.”
Tennill said it was the school district’s intention to turn the tables on the Westboro members by using their hate-filled protest as the basis for a “teachable moment” in class today.
“And not just with our high school kids,” Tennill added. “I mean I’ve talked about it with my second grader and my fifth grader because they’ve picked up on (the protest).”
Members of Clayton High’s GSA, or Gay Straight Alliance, spearheaded the local response once word leaked that Westboro would target the school, but those in the crowd also included parents, teachers, and even students from other schools who made the trip specifically to speak out against the anti-gay protestors.
Kirkwood High School sophomore Caroline Bird was asked what she’d tell Westboro Church members if she could speak to them face-to-face.
“I would tell them that God lives everyone equally,” she responded. “At least that’s how I was raised.”
Kim Martino-Sexton has a son at Clayton High, and she brought along her grade school-aged son to witness the counter protest.
She was gratified with the large turnout.
“It really pulled the community together, so I think it’s done the opposite that the hate-mongers were hoping for,” she said.
To drive home the counter protestors’ message of inclusion for all lifestyles, there were people dressed up as unicorns and even a Wookiee from Star Wars holding a sign saying “Wookiees love everyone”, which drew a cheer from the large crowd.
Meanwhile, the tiny group of Westboro members were kept separated by two barrier walls with a large DMZ in between, but one leather-lunged member could still be heard singing “God Bless America” — with the word “bless” replaced by the word “hates”.
They waved the same signs seen at countless other protests here and across the country, saying things like “America is Doomed” and “Soldiers Die for Gay Marriage”.
The Westboro Baptist Church members were on their way home to Topeka, Kansas from Indianapolis, where they protested outside the Super Bowl.
Clayton School District spokesman Chris Tennill had a theory as to why, out of all the schools and other potential protest sites along that route, the Westboro group chose Clayton High to make their stand.
“We did have (church founder) Fred Phelps’ estranged son Nathan here last year to speak,” he pointed out. “We’ve heard that they’ve had Clayton High School on their radar for awhile.”
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