In response to news article, Westboro Baptist protests LGBTQ suicide in Nickerson
NICKERSON — When Arlandre McAbee, Hutchinson, heard the Westboro Baptist Church was going to protest at a rural high school with fewer than 350 students, he thought it was a joke — but then he realized the Topeka group was serious.
McAbee traveled to Nickerson on Thursday afternoon with dozens of others to show support for the LGBTQ community.
“I didn’t know people were really protesting to hate people,” said McAbee, a student at Hutchinson Community College. “I was hoping it would be wrong.”
McAbee was one of more than 100 people who rallied in support of Jackie Crites, whose son, a student at Nickerson, took his own life last year.
Crites hopes to help other children get the help they need by asking that all high schools have mental illness support groups.
The Hutchinson News published an article this week about Crites’ experience.
More: Youth suicide rates are on the rise in Kansas. What is being done to help?
The Westboro Baptist Church, headquartered in Topeka, is listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
On Thursday, half a dozen members of the Westboro Baptist Church held up signs saying “America is doomed” and “God is angry with the wicked every day.”
The event comes a day before the seventh anniversary of the death of Westboro founder Fred Phelps Sr.
Because Nickerson has only one police officer, the Reno County Sheriff’s Department was called for help ahead of the half-hour protest. Ten officers erected barriers separating members of the Westboro church from counter-protesters – many of whom came from nearby Hutchinson.
Most of the crowd waved rainbow flags with sayings like “peace” and “calm down”. Others held signs in support of the young man who took his own life, hoping his death was not in vain.
Fred Phelps Jr., a Westboro elder, said “parents are destroying these kids with lies.”
Phelps has traveled to all 50 states, holding signs, professing his beliefs, and protesting actions and people he believes go against the Bible.
“We tell them they need to repent,” said Joshua Jaques, one of 80 members of the Topeka-based church. “We tell them what they are doing is a sin.”
The crowd was peaceful, with both sides holding up signs. When the Westboro members put on some music, the counter-protesters turned up their music louder.
Heather Storey, from Nickerson, said she was saddened by the hate displayed, but said: “I’m very happy with this level of support in such a small community.”
A recent Nickerson High School graduate, Kristi Weiser, was surprised by the signs and flyers from Westboro congregants. Weiser, a Baptist, said her church and people she knows who are religious don’t hate it.
“They treat you like a human being,” she said. “They don’t do that. They don’t hate.”
Crites was overwhelmed with community support – from parents to community members to the Hutchinson branch of PFLAG.
“They have a right to be here,” she said. “But we have the right to overcome their hatred.”