San Bernardino Shooting Victim, Students, Stand Up to Westboro Baptist Church
When protesters from the Kansas church infamous for disrupting military funerals and other events arrived in Redondo Beach, Calif., on Monday, people were ready.
Hundreds of people of all ages staged a pro-LGBT counterprotest to shout down the demonstrators from Westboro Baptist Church outside Redondo Union High School. Among them was a 2011 graduate of that school who survived last month's terror attack in San Bernardino.
Jennifer Stevens, 22, is an environmental services technician at the San Bernardino County social services center where 14 people were murdered by a husband-and-wife terrorist team in December. She was shot in the abdomen and required surgery. San Bernardino is roughly 80 miles east of Redondo Beach.
Stevens, described by The New Civil Rights Movement as an LGBT ally, was identified in various news reports as a graduate of Redondo Union. Photographs used in that coverage showed her playing center field for the school’s softball team.
Westboroo elder Steve Drain told USA Today College that church members chose the school as their site to to spread a message that the San Bernardino shooting was "an outpouring of the wrath of God." According to the church's website, members visited Redondo Union "to warn the living."
The handful of protesters picketed the school with signs that said “Repent or Perish” and “God Sent the Drought,” according to Los Angeles TV station KCBS. In keeping with the church's decades-long tradition, Westboro members loudly blamed gays for tragedies of the world.
In addition to its protests at military funerals, the church has demonstrated at funerals of people who have died as a result of AIDS or antigay hate crimes, the latter including Matthew Shepard. The co-president of Redondo Union's gay-straight alliance suggested the hate group descended upon the school because of its acceping atmosphere and the fact that an alumna was connected to the terrorist attack in San Bernardino.
"This is the kind of school Redondo is — we are loving and liberal and accepted," Lola Chase told Los Angeles TV station KTTV. "[Stevens] was shot in the San Bernardino attacks, so we think it’s a big factor as to why they have signs that say ‘God sent the shooter.'"
Hundreds of people responded to social media calls for action by Redondo Union principal Nicole Wesley and former Mayor Mike Gin, the city’s first out Republican leader, who organized the counterdemonstration. Students and faculty joined in too for what Wesley told KCBS was a teachable lesson.
"It’s one of those things where we take a negative experience and we turn it into a positive,” Wesley told the local station. “It’s time for them to go back to Kansas."
Organizers posted photos of the counterdemonstration on the event's Facebook page.
The boyfriend of another San Bernardino shooting victim, Ryan Reyes (pictured below, left) will join First Lady Michelle Obama tonight at the Capitol for the president’s final State of the Union Address. One chair in the balcony is being left unoccupied to represent his boyfriend Daniel Kaufman (below, right) and all victims of gun violence in 2015.
Watch the report on the counterdemonstration against Westboro from KCBS below.