As a youth, I was queer and in the closet. I grew up in the Midwest in a school of ninety kids. That's ninety counting kindergarteners, first grade and all the way up the line to seniors. Being out really wasn't an option. I suppose I could have done it. I would have been threatened, isolated and humilated on a daily basis with or without my family to support me. I couldn't do that. I thought of myself at that age today when I headed to Beaverton's Southridge High School.
When I got there, I counted seven bicycle cops, four cruisers, two mini-moblie cop units and one big armor truck. They had barricades laying across the street from the school. I surveyed the schoolyard, looking for a white van that belonged to the Church (they usually have a white van.) I came across one single counter-protester. I walked up and identified myself as being on her side and we shared stories about how we wanted to be there for the students. One officer rolled up on us and asked the lady (not bothering with me) to get behind the barricades as the members of the Westboro Baptist Church were coming soon. She informed the officer that she didn't feel that it was necessary for her to and that, in her opinion, it should be Fred Phelps' Westboro Baptist Church members behind the barricades (which ended up happening.)
The corporate media was all over the place. There were several people from the Oregonian there. I saw Channel 8 and channel 6. A person from the Oregonian told us that they had printed the story a few days ago. We both informed them that we had just read about it on the net last night.
Students started to trickle out of the school and stopped to ask us if we were from Kansas. The lady (I'm sorry that I can't remember her name) shouted out that we were there to support them. They cheered and hung around the other side of the street. Then, the bigots arrived. There were only about eight or nine of them. Two of them appeared to be under nine years old. One of them was in her early teens. That was disheartening. They had signs that read "God Hates Fags" "Matt In Hell" "Thank God for Rita" and more. They weren't shouting as they had been previously. They all just got out of their vans, slithered in the barricades, held their signs and dragged a couple of amerikan flags.
The students however were much more lively. I was focussing on the hate-mongers and didn't notice the gathering of students at the other side. The lady who was countering with me had gone to join them as they gathered across the street from the bigots. I would guess around sixty or seventy students were out there with a few faculty members, mostly keeping the peace. A few of the students held signs that said things I would expect to hear in high school halls like "U = douchebag." However, some of the signs read "Homophobia sucks. Expect Diversity" and "Worst Cult Ever." One of the students yelled "I'm Lesbian and proud!" Another student brought a mini-megaphone and was chanting "We're here, we're queer, get used to it." The schoolbuses took more students out while they flipped off the bigots and cheered the counter-protesters.
Of course it was still a high school. I saw one student with a sign facing out the window that read "He's a fag" and it had an arrow pointed to the kid in front of him.
Despite that, I have to say that it was heartwarming to see the students standing together, defending their own ground against this formidible force of bigotry. After a while, the students called for everyone to turn their back on the bigots. Then they asked everyone to walk away, saying that these jerks weren't worth our attention. And I agreed with them. I went out to see that the students had support and I believe they did. I also believe that they knew that they could overcome this bigotry, both from the Phelps' bunch and the rest of the world.