Scroll To Top
News

Parasol Patrol plans to outshine Westboro Baptist Church’s anti-LGBTQ+ bigotry at Oklahoma protest

Parasol Patrol protects LGBTQ community Westboro Baptist Church hateful protester
Shutterstock

The group will feature hundreds of volunteers in Owasso in the name of Nex Benedict with colorful umbrellas who will shield kids from cruel messages by the infamous Christian hate group.

Cwnewser

In the small Oklahoma town of Owasso near Tulsa, Parasol Patrol, a dedicated nonprofit organization that escorts children and families past dangerous protesters, is preparing to shield students from anticipated demonstrations by the Westboro Baptist Church.

Amidst this backdrop of heightened tension, highlighted by the tragic death of Nex Benedict, a 16-year-old transgender student of Indigenous heritage from Owasso High School, the Human Rights Campaign has issued warnings about potential hostile activities.

Pasha Ripley, co-founder of Parasol Patrol, stressed the necessity of confronting hate directly rather than hoping it dissipates on its own in an interview with The Advocate.

“We’re not physically afraid of Westboro,” Ripley said. “They’re very litigious. They will reserve a box of space and stay in it without threatening people outside of the space. They won’t attack you physically, but they have vile signs and say terrible things.”

Ripley added, “But ignoring the abuser doesn’t stop the abuse.” This sentiment is especially poignant in Owasso, where the community’s reaction has sometimes shown even greater hostility than that of known hate groups, exacerbating an already tense atmosphere, she said.

Ripley’s connection to the cause, rooted in her experiences “growing up as a queer Korean in Oklahoma,” adds to Parasol Patrol’s commitment to fostering a supportive environment. “The ripples of the bigotry that we experience as a child ripple through our adulthood,” she shared.

As the Westboro Baptist Church and local antagonists plan their demonstrations, including a protest at Owasso High School, where Benedict was a student, Parasol Patrol is organizing training and town hall meetings to prepare volunteers.

Benedict died on February 8 after being assaulted in a school bathroom the previous day. Benedict reported relentless bullying, including in a video released by the Owasso Police Department where Benedict explained to a school resource officer that he and a transgender friend had been picked on because of their appearance.

Parasol Patrol’s strategy includes using umbrellas and noise-canceling headphones to protect students and families from the impact of the protests and maintaining a non-confrontational stance while effectively shielding the community from hate.

Ripley’s message of resilience and support — “We’re trying to keep the gay kids alive” — echoes through the organization’s efforts. By mobilizing volunteers and employing their unique methods, Parasol Patrol aims to provide a buffer between young people and the harmful rhetoric of protesters. Their actions recall the protective response by activists who donned angel wings to shield mourners from the Westboro Baptist Church’s hateful messages during Matthew Shepard’s funeral in 1998, a historical parallel in the fight against LGBTQ+ hate. Just as the angel wings became a symbol of love overcoming hate in the wake of Shepard’s murder, Parasol Patrol’s umbrellas emerge as contemporary shields against intolerance.

“Just as those angels stood up against hate with grace and dignity, we aim to do the same with our presence,” Ripley said. “It’s about showing love in the face of hate, about being a visible sign that we stand with and for each other.”

Ripley said that the overwhelming response from the community and volunteers to Parasol Patrol’s call to action signals a strong counter-movement against bigotry.

“If you give people the opportunity to help, they will,” Ripley said.

She added she expects hundreds of people to show up. As Owasso braces for the upcoming protests, the collective efforts of Parasol Patrol and its supporters offer hope and a model for resistance against intolerance, ensuring that schools and communities become safer spaces for all children, regardless of their identity.

“Our founding was born out of necessity, out of seeing children and families hurt by the very society that should protect them,” Ripley explained. “We dream of a world where every child knows they are loved and accepted for who they are. Until then, we’ll keep showing up, umbrellas in hand, ready to protect and support.”

Cwnewser
30 Years of Out100Out / Advocate Magazine - Jonathan Groff & Wayne Brady

From our Sponsors

Most Popular

Latest Stories

Christopher Wiggins

Christopher Wiggins is a senior national reporter for The Advocate. He has a rich career in storytelling and highlighting underrepresented voices. Growing up in a bilingual household in Germany, his German mother and U.S. Army father exposed him to diverse cultures early on, influencing his appreciation for varied perspectives and communication. His work in Washington, D.C., primarily covers the nexus of public policy, politics, law, and LGBTQ+ issues. Wiggins' reporting focuses on revealing lesser-known stories within the LGBTQ+ community. Key moments in his career include traveling with Vice President Kamala Harris and interviewing her in the West Wing about LGBTQ+ support. In addition to his national and political reporting, Wiggins represents The Advocate in the White House Press Pool and is a member of several professional journalistic organizations, including the White House Correspondents’ Association, Association of LGBTQ+ Journalists, and Society of Professional Journalists. His involvement in these groups highlights his commitment to ethical journalism and excellence in the field. Follow him on X/Twitter @CWNewser (https://twitter.com/CWNewser) and Threads @CWNewserDC (https://www.threads.net/@cwnewserdc).
Christopher Wiggins is a senior national reporter for The Advocate. He has a rich career in storytelling and highlighting underrepresented voices. Growing up in a bilingual household in Germany, his German mother and U.S. Army father exposed him to diverse cultures early on, influencing his appreciation for varied perspectives and communication. His work in Washington, D.C., primarily covers the nexus of public policy, politics, law, and LGBTQ+ issues. Wiggins' reporting focuses on revealing lesser-known stories within the LGBTQ+ community. Key moments in his career include traveling with Vice President Kamala Harris and interviewing her in the West Wing about LGBTQ+ support. In addition to his national and political reporting, Wiggins represents The Advocate in the White House Press Pool and is a member of several professional journalistic organizations, including the White House Correspondents’ Association, Association of LGBTQ+ Journalists, and Society of Professional Journalists. His involvement in these groups highlights his commitment to ethical journalism and excellence in the field. Follow him on X/Twitter @CWNewser (https://twitter.com/CWNewser) and Threads @CWNewserDC (https://www.threads.net/@cwnewserdc).