The following account is one young person's encounter with a fundamentalist extremist group.
In June of 1998, I lost an uncle to an AIDS related illness. He was brilliant, he was Christian, and he was gay. I was only five years old when he died and I didn't know anything about AIDS. I just knew I was sad to lose such a great uncle.
Today, I find myself fighting a hate group in his honor.
When my friend told me the Westboro Baptist Church planned to picket my high school, I didn't know much about them, so I dug into stories about the group's ideology on the Internet. The so-called "church" (based in Kansas with no real Baptist church affiliations) goes around the country protesting at fallen soldiers' funerals, saying their deaths are paying for the "sins" of the country. The church is anti-Semitic, anti-homosexual, anti-government and a downright hateful group. They've even picketed President Obama's daughters' school in Washington, D.C. (their website calls the girls "satanic spawn" as previously reported in The Huffington Post.)
The Westboro Baptist Church website says they picked my school, Henry W. Grady High in Atlanta, Georgia, because of our tolerance for homosexuality. They sometimes bring signs to their protest rallies that read, "Thank God for AIDS."
I cried when I read that.
How could a group of people thank God for a disease that has affected millions of people and left the families of the victims, families such as mine, devastated? I have never attended a protest in my life, and I contemplated ignoring the picketers and not giving them the attention they crave, but I knew this rally was my call to action.
Today, I'm holding a student led demonstration of my very own—a complete antithesis to Westboro's—and it's at the same time as theirs. I've created a group on Facebook that has 2600 fans and counting. People from all over the country, who I have never met, are posting words of encouragement to me.
Our actions today are about unconditional love, tolerance, and acceptance towards others. My friends and I coined the name A-T-L, standing for Acceptance, Tolerance, and Love. We will congregate with signs devoted to love, have stations for participants to make shirts with the A.T.L. logo on them, and collect donations for AID Atlanta, a non-profit organization helping people living with HIV/AIDS in the Atlanta area.
As soon as school gets out today, the Westboro Church is scheduled to be on our sidewalk. Our rally will be across the street, in Atlanta's 185-acre Piedmont Park. This experience will no longer be about Westboro. Grady High students are taking the story away from the church to tell a different one.
This is Atlanta: the home of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the cultural center of the South. Today, we'll live up to our city's slogan: "too busy to hate."