TOPEKA, Kan. — Planting Peace, a progressive non-profit organization dedicated to environmental conservation, has purchased a house across the street from the anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church, giving it a new paint job that pays homage to the rainbow flag, a symbol of LGBT pride.
The organization said Tuesday that a Google Earth search last December led them to buying the house, located directly across the street from the Westboro compound, home to anti-gay extremists famous for their “Gods Hate Fags” protests.
Aaron Jackson, co-founder of Planting Peace, told LGBTQ Nation that the group has settled on naming the home “Equality House,” and that Planting Peace would launch a campaign to counter their neighbor’s anti-gay protests.
“Planting Peace’s mission is to spread peace. We have orphanages, medical programs and a rainforest conservation program all over the world,” said Jackson. “Our goal with this is to raise awareness, stand up to bigotry, and promote equality.”
Jackson said Planting Peace plans to create a drop-in center at the house designed to support LGBT anti-bullying efforts.
He said that the organization has created a CrowdRise page, which as already raised over $10,000., with the ultimate goal of raising more than a million dollars to support equality efforts. Jackson said funds raised from this project will be used to create and sustain anti-bullying programs.
“An estimated 4,000 kids commit suicide each year because they hear a message that they are ‘less than.’ It is our goal to help change that message. We thought no better place to start that message than countering the message of the Westboro Baptist Church,” he said.
“I always was very interested in equality and activism for gay people, and the kids killing themselves — some of it influenced by their (Westboro’s protests) actions — it made sense,” he said. “I’ve wanted to do something, and I knew when I saw that house for sale that it all came together.”
Meanwhile, Jackson said that he’s already “met the neighbors,” and they have been very friendly thus far.
He noted that just minutes before speaking with LGBTQ Nation on Tuesday afternoon, Shirley Phelps-Roper, daughter of Westboro founder Fred Phelps, had been out front with her camera taking pictures of the Equality House’s new paint job.
“We want this house to be a message that where there’s hate, there’s also love,” said Jackson.“But we also want to raise awareness and capital, and we want to put all that money into creating and sustaining anti-bullying programs, along with supporting anti-bullying programs that already exist,” he said.
Beyond the symbolic message of the home, Jackson said that volunteers who live and work at the Equality House will focus on promoting equality and managing the groups anti-bullying initiatives.
The Westboro Baptist Church is best known for its protest of the funerals of U.S. service members, and first came into the national spotlight in 1998, when it picketed at the funeral of Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old gay man who was brutally attacked on the night of October 6, 1998, then tied to a fence and left to die.
The church is not affiliated with the Baptist denomination or any other Baptist church. According to news reports, almost all of its members — fewer than 100 — are related to founder Fred Phelps either by blood or marriage.
Donations to Planting Peace and Equality House can be made here.