About 200 Unitarian Universalists used their Columbus, Ohio, General Assembly lunch break Friday to “love on” a half-dozen protesters from the anti-LGBT Westboro Baptist Church.
Led by ten UUs wearing large, white angel wings and three ministers, the Revs. Jennifer Brooks, Karen Quinlan, and Chris Long, scores of UUs filed out of the Greater Columbus Convention Center just before 1 p.m., singing UUs hymns such as “Meditation on Breathing” and “Enter, Rejoice, and Come in”—which attendees later changed to “enter, rejoice, and go out,” to reflect their desire to express the faith’s values in public.
For about 45 minutes UUs sang and chanted their professed values and principles of LGTBQ inclusion and acceptance of all persons. Most UUs did not confront the Westboro protesters directly, though a handful followed around one sign-laden Westboro member, forming a song circle around her as they held hands.
Everly Rae Milstead, a 16-year-old UU from Austin, Texas, wore one of the angel suits. The angel wings gained national acclaim in Orlando, Florida, last week as people wore them to shield grieving families from antigay and/or anti-Latinx protesters at funerals honoring victims of the June 12 Pulse nightclub massacre. Members of First Unitarian Church of Orlando shipped them to GA earlier in the week.
“I’ve been feeling fragile about Orlando,” Milstead said. “When we started singing, I felt surrounded by my faith and felt love.” Milstead came out to her parents a year ago, she said, and the action—which filled the High Street sidewalk in downtown Columbus and spilled into the street—“helps me feel even more support.”
Brooks and Long gathered UUs inside the convention center before the action as other organizers tried to ascertain Westboro Baptist’s whereabouts. They led joyful renditions of “I’ve Got Peace Like a River” and other UU favorites.
Once outside, the gathering started somberly, then grew more energetic as passing cars honked support of the UUs, with some passengers yelling from rolled-down windows. Perhaps the most raucous chant was “We love you!” directed at the Westboro protesters as they left, about twenty minutes after most UUs arrived.
Mandy Neff, director of religious education at First Parish in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and one of the angel-winged leaders who helped construct the large angel structures, described the event afterward as a meaningful success. “As part of my work [as a DRE] I’m always looking for ways to embody faith and peace,” Neff said.
Becky Trombly-Freytag, a UU young adult, agreed, and described it as “an honor” to wear the angel wings that came from Orlando. “It meant a lot to uphold that legacy of love and protection.”
"‘We have patience, but we are impatient with injustice," Long said to the crowd, to thunderous applause and cheers.