By Claire Dwyer ’20
Uprisings and protests put on by hate groups scare the living daylights out of me. So honestly, fear was my first reaction upon hearing of the decision of the Westboro Baptist Church to come to Pomona’s campus and preach their doctrine of bigotry and hate. I did not have any sense of brazen courage, nor a desire to confront the protestors head on. I think that my immediate thought when reading their hate-filled flier was to recognize that I was exactly the type of person they were there to speak out against. And that is precisely what terrified me. However, at the risk of sounding what one might mistake as weak, I want to acknowledge that I think the greatest courage comes from moments when we are afraid. I commend the event organizers Kano Cheng PO ’22, Matti Horne PO ’22, Rachel Howard PO ’22, Rachel Lau PO ’22, and Rowan Macy PO ’22 for acting upon the news and organizing the event. It takes a great deal of character to be the one to stand up and do what is right. It takes even more courage, perhaps, when you are a first semester, first-year college student just starting out at your new school. I am proud to be their colleague and classmate. I wish that first-year me had understood what these first-years clearly do — change can come from every voice on campus, and every member of the community has the potential to do something really great. “To me personally the most important part is that we’re ignoring the church,” Kano said. “To me, as a member of the LGBT community, it is important that so many people from the community came out in support.”
Kano is correct; precisely what was so extraordinary about the event is that it took a step away from fear, a step away from hate, and brought the community together. Yes, it was supervised by administrators, and Pomona’s president Gabi Starr stopped by, but, what truly made it extraordinary was the students, and the community as a whole. As a LGBTQ+ community member made to feel unsafe by the mere idea that such a hate group might come to campus, I was so grateful to every person there. Showing up to events like this is important for people who are emotionally able to — it makes all the difference to people like me who feel as though the bigotry and hate is directed at them. Though I can only speak from my own experience, to me it mattered tremendously that I felt as though my community had my back. It just reaffirmed how the mere presence of another person can change the way we feel in the world and how we look at it. Yes, we were just a group of college students guarded by a row of security officers, eating doughnuts and making posters. But in our presence, we were heroes, we were warriors, we showed that we were strong enough to peacefully rise above hate. Though it might not seem like it sometimes, our voices, our opinions, and our passions matter. The fact that we all showed up to this event matters also, at the very least to me but in reality the impact of such an event goes much beyond the individual. Various campus groups also showed up in support, one of which was the Claremont Christian Fellowship. Club members Nicole Arce PO’21, Julie Cho PO’19, and Ariana Diaz PO’19 perfectly acknowledged why their position as Christians mattered at the event. “We want to acknowledge how Christianity has been used to hurt people, and also strive towards reversing this history, and spread the love,” they said. The students spoke with me behind their display of several signs, one which read “This is the gay that the lord hath made” and another which said “God loves all Her children.” Though I am not a Christian, I felt the sentiment of these signs deep in the core of my being. The important part about this group’s presence, and every other group for that matter, was not their particular identity, but the fact that they were willing to help stand up to the same hatred which queer people of all identities face constantly in the world. To me this was an event which did not scare me as I thought it might, but yet restored my faith in my classmates, my school, and humanity as a whole. The best way to protect our LGBTQ+ community members is to ignore hate and do as we as a Pomona community did — to let us know we are accepted, that we are wanted, and that we belong.