I attended schools of performing and visual arts since the fourth grade, studying musical theatre. I continue my theatre and music studies at University of Florida. As a heterosexual and cisgendered student in the arts, with many friends, teachers, and colleagues who identify as members of the LGBTQ community, I could not put into words how disgusted I am that a prestigious institute like the Juilliard School, a conservatory where uniquely brilliant minds collaborate as artists, could be targeted by the Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church—a cult responsible for preaching anti-semitism, xenophobia, and homophobia.
The “Church,” founded by the late Fred Phelps, was responsible for various pickets at the funerals of fallen gay soldiers, and at memorials of Matthew Shepard and victims of the Pulse Orlando shooting. Shirley Phelps Roper, Fred’s daughter, claimed that WBC chose Juilliard as an arena to spread their prejudiced propaganda on the grounds that it was “the heart and soul of the arts community…” responsible for “filling the nation with proud sodomites.”
On Thursday, Nov. 3, members of the organization marched onto the 65th Street entrance of Juilliard’s Lincoln Center campus, sporting signs with phrases like “Repent or Perish,” “The World is Doomed,” and their most infamous and despicable slogan to date, “God Hates F—s.” These protestors were greeted by sixty to one hundred Juilliard students and artists from throughout the city.
Musicians, actors and dancers stood on the front lines, preparing to fight hate with love and expression. Singing and playing songs like “Amazing Grace,” “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “When the Saints Go Marching In,” and carrying signs reading “Sing a new song unto the Lord” and “Hell must be FABULOUS,” these students were armed with the power of music and creative expression to tackle words of intolerance. Students even presented an original performance piece entitled “God Loves Jazz” and a parody of a number from the musical “Hamilton.”
Through the works they displayed, these performers lived up to the words of Tony Award winning composer Jonathan Larson: “The opposite of war isn’t peace: it’s Creation.”
As an artist, I believe these counter protests prove that a song, dance, or piece of theatre can promote change or empowerment. I am proud of my fellow musicians and thespians for standing up against a self righteous and narrow-minded Westboro Baptist Church. Like the “Angels” responsible for blockading church pickets during the Matthew Shepard murder trial and memorial services of the Pulse victims, these students actively took a stand against a sea of smite using a dune breaker of pride.
All photographs were taken by Joey Lavarias, a Bachelor of Music (BM) Candidate in Bassoon Performance, courtesy of Odyssey contributor Ashley Williams.