Lambda plans counter protest, community space during Westboro Baptist Church protest

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Lambda plans counter protest, community space during Westboro Baptist Church protest

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Zoe Shancer, Senior Editor

At the same time that the Westboro Baptist Church will protest gender pronoun usage on Vanderbilt’s campus on Monday, Oct. 31, the Vanderbilt Lambda Association, the gender and sexuality alliance on campus, will hold a counter protest and host a community space, or a place to spend time away from the protest, in the K.C. Potter Center.

“We know that oftentimes, the Westboro Baptist Church targets specifically people in the LGBTQI+ community,” said Lambda’s president Mac Ploetz. “From their website we’ve also found out that they are specifically targeting transgender people and the use of pronouns and pronoun respect on campus.”

As soon as the student body began to find out about the WBC’s visit, Ploetz says he received a flurry of emails asking, “What is Lambda doing in response?”

“A lot of people will look to Lambda anyway as a representation of the LGBTQI+ community on campus …” Ploetz said. “It was a challenge then, what do we do in response to provide not only for our members, but for community members that really want to show solidarity for our community?”

Responding to the WBC’s protest was important for Lambda, according to Ploetz, because Lambda aims to address not only issues that happen on campus, but issues that affect a broader community.

“I think this is a really good opportunity to address that things happen outside this campus that we can’t control, but we can control our response,” Ploetz said. “If we can facilitate a response where people are loving and caring for each other and showcasing pride, I think that’s a really great thing.”

“We are having a good streak as a campus as student leaders who are attempting to mitigate this discrimination against marginalized communities.”

Lambda thought carefully about how they wanted to respond to the WBC’s protest, Ploetz said. They were inspired by Hidden Dores, who planned a counter event called the #TheHeist that took place while the Vanderbilt College Republicans brought controversial conservative speaker Milo Yiannopoulus to campus earlier this fall.

“That event was absolutely perfect for what happened on campus, so Lambda thought, we are having a good streak as a campus as student leaders who are attempting to mitigate this discrimination against marginalized communities,” Ploetz said.

After considering all of these factors, Lambda planned a four-part event that copied elements of #TheHeist while also implementing the goals of its own members. As part one, Lambda will host an interest meeting on Saturday Oct. 29 from 1-2 p.m. in Buttrick 101 for anyone interested in learning about the logistics of the protest.

“That’s going to be an overview of how to be safe, how to take care of each other, self-care, physical care,” Ploetz said.

The meeting will also address media presence, as Ploetz says he doesn’t know whether local or national media will be following this story, but they want to be prepared regardless.  

“We want to tell anybody that’s interested that there’s a chance that someone will take your photo and it will be on the internet,” Ploetz said. “We want everyone to be really aware of that.”

Ploetz also wants to make sure that all protesters are conveying a unified message.

“Lambda is really into this idea of celebrating diversity and love with ourselves without engaging in an aggressive manner with people that disagree with us,” Ploetz said.

“We also want our members to be really prepared that they will be shouted at, because that’s what we’ve seen in the past.”

According to Ploetz, safety is his biggest concern.

“We really want to facilitate an environment where people are as safe as possible,” Ploetz said. “We really want to emphasize that people aren’t engaging with any protesters from the WBC … we want to make sure we aren’t physically contacting them. We also want our members to be really prepared that they will be shouted at, because that’s what we’ve seen in the past.”

On Sunday Oct. 30, Lambda will host a sign-making event as part two of their response. It will take place from 5 to 8 p.m., on a drop-in basis, in the K.C. Potter Center and will provide the space and materials for members of the Vanderbilt community to make signs for the protest on Monday.

The protest itself will take place during the WBC protest on Monday Oct. 31 from 11:10 to 11:40 a.m.. According to Ploetz, those who want to protest WBC will gather at Central Library at 10:45 am, where they will send out scouts in pairs of two around campus to locate the WBC protestors.

“We don’t know where they are going to be,” Ploetz said. “We know that they cannot be on campus and that they have to be on public spaces. There are roads that run through campus that are public spaces, so we are posting people at different spots around campus.”

“I have guesses to where they could be,” Ploetz said. “My guess is that they’ll be near a sign that says Vanderbilt because that makes the most sense for a picture, but we really don’t know.”  

At the same time, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. that day, Lambda will host a community space event in the K.C. Potter Center.

Ploetz says this will be a place where students may talk about the protest if they would like, or they may relax, do homework and grab some food.

“This is recognition that protesting isn’t everyone’s jam,” Ploetz said. “We will providing a space with food … coloring pages and friendship bracelets.”

“I’m afraid there’s going to be verbal engagement that’s not conducive to a healing environment or a loving environment, and I’m afraid for my community.”

This is also a time to reinforce that the K.C. Potter Center is an open space for anybody on campus, whether or not they identify with the LGBTQI+ community, according to Ploetz.

Ploetz says that as a trans person, his initial reaction to WBC’s plans to come to campus was anger. His primary concern, however, was fear for our community.

“I’m fearful of very physical reactions,” Ploetz said. “I’m fearful that people are going to have their pictures taken when they don’t want them to be taken. I’m afraid that there’s going to be physical engagement. I’m afraid there’s going to be verbal engagement that’s not conducive to a healing environment or a loving environment, and I’m afraid for my community.”

What Ploetz also finds upsetting is that a group of people is capable of harboring so much hate, a hate that he feels instills a fear that our country is halting in progression related to social issues.

“The other fear is that there are folks that really believe the things that they’re picketing,” Ploetz said. “It’s everybody’s right to have their own opinion, but when it’s hurting a group of people, it crosses a definite line.

While the WBC has been designated as a hate group by several groups for their views, Lambda hopes to preach love through their protest.

“For a lot of people, this is their first protest. And we want to make sure that their first protest is safe, is productive and ends in a feeling of satisfaction. We don’t want people to walk away feeling worse.”

“There’s a time and place for frustration, and it is so valid to be frustrated, and it is so valid to be angry and upset that people who disagree with identities and identity politics are coming to this campus to picket that thing,” Ploetz said. “We really want to make sure that we’re funneling that into love for each other and a display of pride for who we are.”

Ploetz encourages anyone who wants to participate in the protest to contact the Lambda Executive Board beforehand, whether that is through Anchorlink, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr or coming to their interest meeting.

“We want people to make sure they are so informed about what they’re getting themselves into because for a lot of people, this is their first protest,” Ploetz said. “And we want to make sure that their first protest is safe, is productive and ends in a feeling of satisfaction. We don’t want people to walk away feeling worse.”

Ploetz also realizes that the LGBTQI+ community is not the only one that the WBC targets.

“We realize that our community is not the only one that is affected by the WBC, and we definitely want to expand planning to other affected communities, so we would rather work with people and incorporate their planning ideas than have separate protests going on,” Ploetz said. “I want people to create a unified demonstration rather than separate ones so that we are all on the same page in terms of safety, because that’s the biggest concern really.”

Lambda is accepting co-sponsorships for this event, both in terms of finances and advertisements. Those interested can contact Ploetz at mac.ploetz@vanderbilt.edu

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