The most hateful church in America has some colorful new neighbors. This week, members of the Florida-based nonprofit Planting Peace unveiled a project months in the making: Equality House, an activism center located directly across from the Westboro Baptist Church outside Topeka, Kansas.
From now on, the group known for picketing the funerals of everyone from military members killed in action to Mr. Rogers, in protest of America’s tolerance of homosexuality, will wake up every morning and stare at an LGBT rainbow—after Equality House members painted the building to match the gay pride flag.
Project Peace director of operations Davis Hammet spoke to TakePart from inside Equality House. He tells us the idea for the project originated months ago, after Planting Peace members heard about the protest of Josef Miles—a 10-year-old who took it upon himself to hold a sign in front of Westboro that read “God Hates No One.”
If 10-year-old Miles had the courage to hold a counter-protest—why couldn’t Planting Peace?
“We walked around Westboro’s neighborhood on Google street view and thought: ‘It would be awesome to get a house right there and paint it rainbow,’ ” says Hammet.
As it turned out, the house directly across the street from the church was for sale. After months of negotiations, Project Peace purchased the property for just over $80,000.
“Shortly after I moved in, someone from Westboro almost backed over me in her car. It was an accident, and she apologized. But it was bizarre—this hate-filled person smiling and waving at me.”
Hammet says he has been living in the house for several weeks preparing for its grand unveiling. The group was scheduled to start painting the building last month, but was forced to delay after a brutal Kansas snowstorm.
Project Peace used the extra time to make friends in the local LGBT community.
Hammet says during that time, he only had a few run-ins with Westboro members.
“Before we launched, we tried to keep quiet. Shortly after I moved in, someone from Wetsboro almost backed over me in her car. It was an accident, and she apologized. But it was bizarre—this hate-filled person smiling and waving at me.”
Since the unveiling, Hammet says Westboro has been similarly cordial.
“[Westboro spokesperson] Shirley Phelps-Roper walked by and was taking some pictures yesterday,” he says. “She mentioned she really like the colors. Then she laughed and went back in the church. It seemed like she had a sense of humor about the whole thing. I’m sure in her eyes she just thinks we’re all going to hell.”
Hammet says his group hopes to use the publicity from Equality House to help launch an anti-bullying campaign among other initiatives.
“This is hopefully just the start,” he says. “We want this to be used to spark conversation about equality in every home. We believe the fastest way toward equality is by speaking out.”
For now, Equality House will likely be used as an activist training center. Despite its new exterior decorations, the facility remains rather modest. After weeks of sleeping on the floor, Hammet says he finally has a bed and a desk to work from:
“It’s pretty basic. But it could be barren and still be warm, because this place is full of love.”
To help Equality House’s efforts, click here.
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Matthew Fleischer is a former LA Weekly staff writer and an award-winning social justice reporter in Los Angeles. Email Matt