Metro Weekly

Parasol Patrol Shuts Down Westboro Baptist’s Nex Benedict Protest

The anti-LGBTQ Westboro Baptist Church was outnumbered by counter-protesters when they attempted to picket Nex Benedict's high school.

Westboro Baptist Church’s anti-LGBTQ signs – Photos: Westboro Baptist Church; Owasso High School – Photo: Twitter.

Westboro Baptist Church, a radical right-wing organization known for its anti-gay vitriol, picketed outside the high school once attended by Nex Benedict, a nonbinary 16-year-old who died the day after an altercation in the school’s bathroom.

But a pro-LGBTQ alliance of hundreds of people showed up to counter-protest, outnumbering the church members and expressing support for the students at Owasso High School in Owasso, Oklahoma. 

The Topeka, Kansas-based Westboro, which has been designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, announced earlier this week that it intended to hold two “public preaching” events in Owasso on Wednesday, March 6 — one outside the school board headquarters, and the other outside Owasso High.

According to a release from the group that misgenders Benedict, Westboro intended to protest the school due to its negligence in dealing with the 16-year-old, allowing her to identify as nonbinary without forcing her to accept her assigned sex at birth.

The release slams Benedict’s family for having failed in raising them, and the staffers at Owasso High School, the local school board, and the city, saying that adults surrounding Benedict failed to intervene, and implying that God punished the lack of intervention with Benedict’s death. 

“Woe! unto every adult who had responsibility for that young girl (sic) and the systems she lived her life within. You failed her — deeply, abidingly, sorrowfully — every one of you,” Westboro wrote. “You thought you were smarter than God, more hip than God, more modern than God; and/or you didn’t want Nex looking closely at your messy lives, so you left her flailing around in gross darkness and confusion, even to whether she would gratefully honor her one and only gender, assigned by God.”

On March 6, six members from the church showed up outside the high school at 2 p.m., armed with signs bearing homophobic slurs and anti-LGBTQ rhetoric, including their trademark “God Hate F**s” sign. 

Church member Shirley Phelps-Roper claimed that school staff were too lenient by not reprimanding Benedict or demanding that they identify as a girl or risk punishment. She also appeared to imply that Benedict had been killed because of their transgender status. 

“Why are they grieving the loss? They told her that it was okay for her to do what she was doing,” Phelps-Roper told Tulsa ABC affiliate WTUL. “If you teach your children in any way that it’s okay to disobey God, then you teach them all the way up to murder is okay.”

The six Westboro members were soon surrounded and drowned out by approximately 400 counter-protesters who responded to a call from Parasol Patrol, an organization that routinely counter-protests demonstrations held by anti-LGBTQ groups.

Members of Parasol Patrol carried pro-LGBTQ signs, draped themselves in rainbow Pride flags, and carried rainbow-colored umbrellas, which they used to cover or block the signs and the faces of the Westboro protesters from view.

Eli Bazan, a co-founder of Parasol Patrol who has organized more than 320 counter-protests since 2019, told Public Radio Tulsa that the group was there to show support for other queer students.

Bazan said they felt it was important “to be that peaceful barrier” between the Westboro protesters and students at Owasso High. 

“Owasso, Oklahoma, has been through enough and the last thing they need right now is Westboro coming out here and preaching their hate,” they added.

There was a heavy police presence at both of Westboro’s planned protests, but there were no reports of arrests. Parasol Patrol members outnumbered the Westboro representatives at both protests, with Westboro members eventually leaving after an hour of futile demonstrating. 

Bren Montgomery, sporting a sign and a rainbow umbrella, said she attended the protest to show support for Benedict’s family.

“I have so much empathy for the family and the hurtful things that are being said against them,” she said.

The medical examiner has not yet released the results of Benedict’s autopsy. It is unclear whether any charges will be filed against the students with whom Benedict was fighting when they hit their head on the floor and suffered a concussion, for which Benedict was treated at a local hospital before being released.

Following outcry from national LGBTQ advocacy organizations, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights launched an investigation into the Owasso Public Schools to determine whether the school district “failed to appropriately respond to alleged harassment of students.”

If discrimination is found to have occurred, OCR could threaten to rescind federal funding received by the school, although the actual rescinding of funds is rare in practice.

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