Several hundred people rallied at the intersection of Disney Road and Route 175 Thursday morning to counter the presence of five Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) demonstrators near Meade High and Meade Middle schools.
The counter-demonstration featuring local students and community members gathered well before sunrise to rally against the message of the Kansas-based church, which is known for its anti-gay views.
Church members were not permitted to protest on the grounds of the schools or Fort Meade, but were relegated to the northeast corner of Disney Road and Annapolis Road in Severn. Counter-protesters lined up on the west side of Disney Road.
The members of Westboro Baptist are known for their highly charged protests of the funerals of military members, claiming their deaths are punishment for America's acceptance of homosexuals.
Earlier this week, community members began to use social networking sites including Facebook and Twitter to raise awareness about the counter-protest. For some, the counter-demonstration was more than just an opportunity to make their voices heard—it was personal.
Jamie Hensley, a Fort Meade resident, Army wife and disc jockey who broadcasts over the Internet for soldiers, said Westboro Baptist members specifically targeted her in the past because of her involvement with the military.
“I’ve gotten hate mail from them. [The counter-protest] means a lot to me because they have wished that people in my family would come home in body bags,” said Hensley.
Sharon Lewis, a state department of transportation worker from Brooklyn Park, led a small group in singing "Amazing Grace," while holding her Bible. She said the views of the Westboro Baptist Church were counter to her understanding of God's teachings.
"My partner and I have been together for 26 years. How dare they?” Lewis said. “Hate can never win. I’m sorry, hate can never win. It’s all about love.”
Local students from throughout the region were present for the event as well, with numerous sweatshirts from local schools visible throughout the crowd.
Nick Caroselli, a sophomore at Towson University and graduate of Old Mill High, drove home to protest the WBC member’s presence.
“I strongly oppose the Westboro Baptist Church. The fact they’re protesting in front of a middle school and high school in front of the kids, it’s sickening to me,” said the 10-year Severn resident.
Tauren Lovell, a 2008 Meade High graduate now attending Frostburg State University, staged a peaceful counter-protest with graffiti art. Lovell knelt on a grassy area and used spray paint on a poster to create a scene with the words “Meade Senior High Counter-Strike.”
“I’m all for equality. Personally, I found it offensive that they chose to focus their attack on children at their place of education on a school day,” said Lovell, who is part of a group called “Freight Train Graffiti.”
Located at the CVS parking lot on Disney Road, the several hundred counter-protesters shouted chants of disapproval towards the five WBC demonstrators just across the street such as, “Hey hey ho ho, homophobes got to go!”
The miscellaneous shouts were muted by the deafening thunder of the Hogs for
Heroes motorcycles as they passed the demonstration every two minutes. The WBC members sang along to lyrically-altered pop songs like Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust,” as they held signs that read phrases like “Pray for More Dead Soldiers.”
Despite the large numbers of the highly impassioned crowd opposing the Kansas-based church, police needed to do little besides stand in the road between the two sides as both demonstrated peacefully.
After the WBC members packed up their signs around 7:10 a.m., the crowd was generally pleased with the showing and the several hundred people who came out.
“I think we did pretty good,” said Hensley.