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Chicago protest ridicules Phelpses
Chicago protest ridicules Phelpses
by Jennifer Vanasco - SGN Contributing Writer

University of Chicago students recently showed us how protests against hate should be done.

When the Westboro Baptist Church - the cult-like organization led by Fred Phelps - trooped to campus to declare Obama the anti-Christ (he taught at the law school), they were carrying their usual array of hateful signs. These, of course, included the slogan that seems to be their favorite: "God Hates Fags."

Now, there's no arguing with Fred Phelps or his family. People have tried various tactics - yelling back; talking respectfully; being aggressively friendly and saying things like, "God loves me, but God bless you!"; singing songs like "We Shall Overcome"; and, one of my favorites, standing in front of them with giant angel wings so that no one can see their rabid posturing. When the Westboro Church came to Harvard, for example, signs said "Cambridge Pride," and "Jesus loves me, this I know - for God made me so."

But Chicago students tried something else. Making fun of the Phelpses.

When the Phelps family arrived, they were greeted with a party. Students roasted 'smores. There were dance and music performances. Best of all, students carried signs their own signs. But instead of saying things like, "We're Here, We're Queer," or "No More Hate," they poked smart fun. "God Hates Figs," some posters and handouts said (and they included real Biblical references to prove their point); "God hates the new Facebook," said another. And my favorite: "Cthulhu hates chordates."

This is very U of C. I worked at the university for years, and I was always struck by their wry approach to fun. Other colleges have drunken galas; Chicago has a scavenger hunt that includes math problems and classical references.

When I heard about the Chicago protest - and saw pictures that included faculty and staff members I worked with - I was very proud.

Especially since Chicago is not Berkely. It is one of America's more conservative Universities, even among the undergraduate population.

Mocking hate has a long history in the Gay community. Camp, drag queens, the radical cheerleaders, and the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence are all ways that we have fought back against our own oppression using sly humor.

What makes this new is that it wasn't just Gay and Lesbian students who were protesting - it was the entire campus. It was straight students. Better, it included straight fraternity boys. One frat hung a banner declaring "Straight Huggin'" - and half-naked men danced outside to the song "I'm Coming Out."

The message: People who hate Gays are ridiculous.

Chicago was shaming the Phelps family.

And this marks a sea change.

It used to be that Gays and Lesbians were shamed for being homosexual. Now, straight people who actively and loudly detest Gays and Lesbians are being shamed as being narrow-minded and socially inappropriate.

We saw this with the backlash over the Proposition 8 vote, when there were boycotts against businesses that had given money to the campaign to ban Gay marriage. It was interesting to me that we didn't hear boycotts against businesses who supported Gay marriage.

This new shaming of the anti-Gay right doesn't mean that we will get everything we want. It will still be a fight to overturn the Gay military ban. It will be a fight to keep Gay Americans and their foreign partners together. It will be a fight to allow Gay men to give blood, and to keep employers from firing employees because they are Gay - and most of all, it will be a fight to get the next state to give gay marriage a chance.

But it's one more sign of profound cultural change. And we can thank the University of Chicago for that.

Jennifer Vanasco is an award-winning, syndicated columnist. E-mail her at Follow her at

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