The Westboro Baptist Church, a Kansas group made famous for their controversial protests of military funerals across the country, are planning an anti-gay rally at Vassar College. Our John Wagner reports on how the community has turned what some would say is hatred into a positive.
POUGHKEEPSIE, N.Y. -- The Westboro Baptist Church, widely considered a cult, with around 50 loyal members, plans to rally at Vassar College to let students and teachers know it's not okay to be gay, announcing loudly that they are all doomed.
"I think they see us as being this hotbed of liberalism. We're just a hotbed of people accepting other people," said Cory Epstein, a senior at Vassar College. "They spew hate because we are accepting of different people here no matter who they love, no matter who they are, where they're from. And we stand against hate."
"It had a very great, unifying effect which I think is ironic for the churches purpose," said Al-Donn Riddick, a Vassar College sophomore.
The planned protest galvanized the Vassar community, creating so much buzz, a student group "Do Something VC" sprung up to harness the energy.
"Their hateful messages have no place here," said Jeffrey Kosmacher, spokesman for Vassar College. "They certainly have no place in our society, but we're going to let our positive values be a testament to that."
Vassar alumni began a fundraiser as a counter-protest, hoping to garner $100 for each minute the protest was planned to last. They've already raised more than $45,000, ten times their initial goal. All money goes to the Trevor Project, the leading national organization providing suicide prevention services for gay and lesbian youth.
"It shows us how much energy and power we have as students and how we can make good things happen every day," said Epstein, who is a member of the Do Something VC group. "We hope to continue this spirit going on."
Vassar officials say they're flattered by the visit, because they say it means they're doing the right thing.
"We're realizing this is an opportunity for Vassar to rally around its core values," said Kosmacher.
"Critical thinking and open mindedness and kindness to each other regardless of orientation or race or religion," explained Sidney Bell, another Vassar student.
Students and staff are working on fundraisers for local LGBT groups and setting up a series of interfaith services and campus wide programs for the week leading up to the protest.
"I think something really beautiful will come out of it, especially if Vassar's response is publicized," said Riddick.
You can donate to the counter-protest by clicking: http://www.crowdrise.com/vcfeb28/fundraiser/joshdeleeuw
Or you can learn more about the Do Something VC group via Twitter, Facebook or send ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can find more information about the Westboro Baptist Church by clicking here.