BRAVING A CHILLY Monday morning, hundreds of gay rights activists flooded street corners along SW Market on November 24, ready to counter-protest an anti-gay troupe from the Topeka, Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church (WBC).
Earlier, people had gathered at Portland State University's Queer Resource Center (QRC)—the target of the WBC's protest, according to the group's website, godhatesfags.com—to collect rally signs and hear from the center's development coordinator, Amy Romberg.
"We're trying to support and contain ourselves," she told the crowd, stressing that the QRC's goal was "absolutely no engagement" with the WBC crew.
There wasn't much to engage with: Only four people showed up from WBC, holding large signs that dubbed President-elect Barack Obama the antichrist, declared that "Fags are Beasts," and said "You're Going to Hell." Two of the four said they were granddaughters of the church's controversial figurehead, Fred Phelps, and two of the protesters were teenaged girls. Three of them stood on tattered American and rainbow flags.
Saying they were there to "preach the word of God," one of the teenagers said it's "the duty of every man to warn his neighbor," to say "stop it, right now." She added the word "filthy" to every other sentence, to "warn you all that you're going to hell."
While the majority of the counter-protesters stayed across the street and down the block—commuters driving past honked in support of signs like "I Love Queers"—a few tried to chat with the protesters.
Duke Revard, who holds a masters in theology, asked the teenaged protesters why they were here, and what their signs meant. "We didn't come here to save anyone," one of the teens said. They were in Portland to share the word of God—it's a "preaching opportunity," she explained.
Talking to the girls, Revard asked if either of them had "read anything outside" of Phelps' teachings, and he pointed out "there are 70 people who believe this, out of six billion" in the world. "You might be brainwashed," he told them politely.
Revard said he came down to the protest on his own, because as a Christian, his "biggest frustration... is that Christians are lumped in with this sort of thing," he said. "If Christ were here, he'd be washing feet... Christ's way is through kindness."