Social media spread the coming of Westboro Baptist Church to many College of Charleston students on Monday, Oct. 21. The Church group is famous for its public protests against LGBT individuals, and was indicated by the gathering of hundreds of students as something that will not be tolerated at the College.
Students congregated to counter the protest of the Church, and police had trouble keeping everyone on the sidewalk. Many of them had signs, saying “Cougars = Equality” and “What Happened to Love Thy Neighbor?” While WBC didn’t show, hundreds of students stayed to hear Shepard speak, and show their support for LGBT rights. With people lining the walls of Stern Ballroom, the fire marshal turned away many more.
Shepard started the talk with her own comments on the counter protest, “Wow, what an exciting day, right? I wish someone would have asked me because those people hardly show up.”
Shepard, a high school social studies teacher, author and Matthew’s mother, travels the nation speaking out against hate crimes like the one that killed her son 15 years ago. According to Shepard, ignorance about the gay community is what is keeping Americans from moving forward with pressing for more reforms for LGBT equality. She spoke of heterosexual shotgun Vegas weddings, saying, “You can be married by Elvis, or a reasonable facsimile,” but to be legally forbidden to marry someone of the same sex, “you’ve been with for 20 years and that’s not OK? That makes no sense.”
Shepard also offered some perspective on coming out for those who are afraid to do so, based on fear and rejection. She said, “If you’re hiding it, don’t. Don’t make the decision for me, that I’m going to reject you for this. It is a selfish decision to hide pieces of yourself. Do not deny me the opportunity to show you how much I love and respect you.”
Shepard came to the College at the beginning of the third-annual Diversity Week, which started on Oct. 22. The theme for this year’s Diversity Week is “Embrace Differences, Share Strengths, Create Community,” and will allow students to see a different side of diversity.
Kristi Brian, director of diversity education and training at the College, said that diversity is something that is not just for those who “represent diversity,” but something that everyone should be aware of.
Brian said, “It is important for white students on campus to… be open about understanding people’s multiple identities, and be able to have a language about it to see how oppression works today.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]