Unity and Pride Day Counters Hate Group


Photo courtesy of Bill Wu

Senior Elanore Fuller paints rainbow on senior Michael Levine’s face on CHS Unity Day.

By Thomas Atkinson and Maya Rosenberg

The hate group, the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC), picketed CHS Nov. 10 for its active Sexuality Gender Alliance club, otherwise known as the Gay Straight Alliance club (GSA).

They picketed during the majority of eighth period, but students were not allowed to counter protest because Principal Joan Benz did not want students to interact with the protesters.

“First and foremost, we do not engage in interactive protests,” Benz said. “Instead, what we planned is an internal, positive approach to the protest.”

This is not the first time the WBC has picketed an MCPS school. Six years ago, they picketed Walt Whitman High School in protest of the sexuality of the person for whom the school is named.

At CHS, despite the hate group’s harsh messages, they managed to unite CHS in a common cause. Different student leadership groups such as the SGA, Sources of Strength (SOS) and the GSA club, as well as administration, organized a peaceful demonstration called Churchill Unity and Pride day (UP). Students wore rainbow and CHS colors to show their support for both the LGBT community and Churchill as a whole.

CHS was decked out in supportive decorations to show school solidarity for its community. Posters proclaiming a CHS “Unity Day” were filled with kind sticky notes from students all around the school. Notes such as “Love who you want” and “Love is love” filled the hallways. Rainbow balloons hung as a canopy under the outdoor entrance to the main office, and small Maryland, American, and rainbow flags lined the outside of the school.

According to GSA president and senior Azariah Kurlantzick, it was great that so many people were wearing rainbow, but he felt that not all students were supportive.

“People who weren’t being supportive were more visible to me than those who were,” Kurlantzick said. “The majority of students and teachers were definitely being really great and that made me feel good, but wearing rainbows all day also made some kid feel like he could walk up to me and say ‘Hey, nice fag, I mean flag.’ Usually that kind of stuff stays behind my back, but it was jarring and frightening to have that said right to my face. It’s great to be able to show pride in school, but the school as a whole still has a long way to go.”

While students were not allowed to go outside and participate in a counter protest, many other groups showed up to support CHS. Students from Walter Johnson, Walt Whitman, Richard Montgomery, Thomas S. Wootton, Sandy Spring Friends school and members of synagogue Har Shalom held peaceful rallies proclaiming love and strength for CHS.

“We wanted to show our support for CHS,” Sandy Spring Friends senior Serena Faruqee said.
According to Faruqee, her counter protest was a student-led demonstration and student absences were approved by their school.

Earlier in the day the WBC picketed the Jewish Federation in D.C. which prompted members of the Jewish community to come show support for CHS students.

“I feel like high school students need to know they have a lot of allies and that they love them,” Har Shalom Rabbi Adam Raskin said.“I take every opportunity I can to support CHS and high school students to show them someone cares.”

Although the day was successful in promoting unity, some felt that more could have been done to bring awareness to the LGBT students at whom the protest was aimed at.

“The school tried to turn this day into a Churchill spirit day instead of making it a supportive day for our LGBT students and GSA club, ” senior and organizer of a student counter demonstration Valerie Weitz said.

The day ended anticlimactically with the WBC leaving before class had even ended. However, that did not stop the throng of students who formed a crowd along Gainsborough Road holding up signs of encouragement and clad in rainbow.

“High school is a time a lot of people really think about their identity,” Wootton junior and counter protester Tristan Hamlin said. “By having a unity day every year, students are able to see the support they have from other students and the school.”