Members of anti-gay and anti-Semitic Westboro Baptist Church have targeted openly bisexual 2019 Rose Queen Louise Deser Siskel and are expected to picket Monday morning at her high school.
According to the church’s website, godhatesfags.com, members of the Kansas-based congregation will picket from 7:45 to 8:15 a.m. at Sequoyah High School, located on the campus of Neighborhood Unitarian Universalist Church in west Pasadena. The Southern Poverty Law Center has described Westboro as “arguably the most obnoxious and rabid hate group in America.”
“That poor child has been so saturated in filthiness that she bragged about being a pervert of the deepest waters (‘the first LGBTQ queen’), honoring what God has called abominable. Uh-oh, that calls for preaching!” a press release on the church’s website states.
In a column published in the Los Angeles Times on New Year’s Eve, Siskel came out as bisexual and noted that she is Jewish.
“[I]n this new, very public position, I feel it’s important to present myself authentically, especially to those who look to the Royal Court as a representation of our community,” wrote Siskel, who could not be reached for comment. “While I am almost certainly not the first member of the LGBTQ community on the court, I hope that by saying so publicly, I might encourage others to be proud of who they are.”
Westboro followers are best known for demonstrating at funerals of gay people, service members and victims of national tragedies such as the Boston Marathon bombing and the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary. Westboro’s website claims the church has picketed 63,534 times in 1,033 cities across the country. Church officials did not respond to requests for comment.
Westboro’s messages are “extremely offensive and inflammatory,” Neighborhood Church officials wrote on their Facebook page. “While Sequoyah has been advised not to engage with picketers, we are planning a peaceful response on our campus to counter their hateful rhetoric with a message of love, LGBTQ welcome and interfaith solidarity.”
The Rev. Lissa Anne Gundlach, senior minister at Neighborhood Church, wrote in a public Facebook group on Pasadena politics that she is calling on “our community [to] come together to rise above this hate group.”
Members of the public Facebook group also wrote that Pasadena police suggested that people refrain from counter-protesting Westboro because of the proximity of young children. The Fair Oaks Preschool is located on the same campus. They also wrote that police will be standing by and security will be present. Gundlach recommended that parents drop off their children earlier than 7:45 a.m. or later than 8:15 a.m. to avoid the Westboro picketers.
“Maintaining a safe, healthy environment for the students is our top priority. Therefore, we ask that
you refrain from demonstrating on Monday,” Gundlach wrote in a press release. “If you would like to participate as a peacekeeper in our nonviolent response, please join us on Sunday for a training and poster-making workshop conducted by the Neighborhood Church Social Justice and Inclusion staff and LGBTQ+ Community Organizers. The workshop will be a safe space for Neighborhood Church members, Sequoyah faculty and students, and the San Gabriel Valley community at large.”
A Peacekeeping Training and Poster Making Workshop will be from 1 to 3 p.m. Sunday on Neighborhood House Front Porch. Registration is requested: bit.ly/nuuclove. For more information, contact church Social Justice and Inclusion Coordinator Luis Sierra Campos at Lcampos@neighborhooduu.org or call (626) 449.3470 Ext. 18.
In an email exchange with a concerned resident, Pasadena Police Chief John Perez described Westboro as “peaceful and cooperative” based on previous encounters with the group. He wrote that they expect “a very loud group of 15 people or so — likely not much more.”
He added that police will “plan for contingencies and keep the view of the police to a minimum to avoid any issues. Our strategy is to get groups in and out and have PPD resources organized to quickly respond as needed.”
Westboro Baptist Church was founded in 1955 by pastor Fred Phelps as an offshoot of the East Side Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas.
Phelps, who died in 2014, attended and received an associate degree from Pasadena’s John Muir College in the late 1940s and early 50s before it merged with Pasadena Junior College to become what is now Pasadena City College.
A June 11, 1951, an article in TIME Magazine reported that 21-year-old Phelps preached to fellow students about their sins, including “promiscuous petting, evil language, profanity, cheating, teachers’ filthy jokes in classrooms and pandering to the lusts of the flesh.”
According to the LA Times, Phelps met his wife at the Arizona Bible Institute and they moved to Kansas in 1954. Westboro’s congregation is “heavily composed of his relatives, including many of his 13 children and 54 grandchildren.” It holds a hyper-Calvinist worldview, although it is not technically affiliated with a specific denomination of Christianity.
Phelps was born in Mississippi in 1929 and ordained as a Southern Baptist minister in 1947. He was also an attorney who argued civil rights cases but was disbarred in Kansas in 1979 for harassing a witness on the stand and calling her a “slut.”
Phelps and his congregants began their picketing campaigns in 1991. In 1998, they became infamous after they picketed at the funeral of 21-year-old Matthew Shepard, who was beaten and killed because he was gay.
In 2011, the US Supreme Court ruled that demonstrations such as Westboro’s picketing of the 2006 funeral of a Marine killed in Iraq, “no matter how odious, were legal as long as protesters obeyed state and local laws setting a minimum distance between themselves and mourners,” according to the Times.
Pasadena Police Lt. Jason Clawson, adjutant to Perez, wrote in an email to the Pasadena Weekly that Westboro does not need a permit to hold their protest because of their First Amendment rights.
“The city is aware of the protest as Westboro reached out to the PPD,” he wrote, adding that the department is not aware of plans for a counter protest.