The Ames community created an environment of love and support in the face of hate Monday morning.
At around 7:20 a.m., more than 100 individuals arrived at Ames High School with signs and flags in hand to show their love and support for the students at Ames High. This number quickly grew to nearly 200 as more community members, students and a few dogs arrived to fill the sidewalks around the protesters from the Westboro Baptist Church.
Counter-protesters chanted “love means love,” among other things, to drown out the warped versions of popular songs that the three Westboro representatives turned into anti-LGBTQIA+ anthems.
“I am really proud; this is beautiful and it may have taken [Westboro protesting] but this is Ames,” said Kirsten Faisal, an Ames community member handing out candy to the counter-protesters. “I am grateful to them for giving us an opportunity to let all of our kids know we love them and we love their families.”
There was color and representation within the counter-protesters, such as the variety of pride flags including the gay pride flag, the trans pride flag and the asexual pride flag. There was also a variety of religious groups in attendance supporting the Ames High students with shirts saying “God is Proud of You” with proud covered by a rainbow.
Some counter-protesters focused on pointing their flags at Westboro and the students and parents driving past while others, such as Lauren Loonsfoot, director of children, youth and family ministries for the Collegiate United Methodist Church and Wesley Foundation, focused on pointing their signs toward the students outside of Ames High.
“We have youth that go to this school,” Loonsfoot said, breaking into tears. “I want them all to know how loved they are because we all love them so much and there is no place for that hate.”
At 8:00 a.m., the three members of the Westboro Baptist Church moved to the corner of Union Drive and Morrill Road, just outside the Memorial Union. They were met by more than 50 counter-protesters, including students, staff and faculty from Iowa State and individuals from the Ames High protest.
The Cosplay Club attended, with some members in full costume, and handed out rainbow heart stickers to other counter-protesters.
Some counter-protestors from the crowd moved forward and asked the Westboro members questions. Two of these individuals were Iowa State students Luke Barnes, a freshman in history and president of Students for Life, and Nickie Long, a transgender woman.
“I came out to show them that we are not afraid of them and that they are in the minority here,” Long said. “I went up and asked them why they felt the need to do this. She replied with something like 'all of America is going to hell and she felt the need to spread the word.'”
Barnes approached the three Westboro members and questioned their methods of bringing people to the gospel using condemnation. Barnes said one of the protestors said she would rather do the preaching herself.
Among the administrators scattered around the outskirts of the counter-protestors was Dean of Students Vernon Hurte, who was there to oversee students. ISU police officers and the Demonstration Safety Team from Student Affairs and the Dean of Students Office were also in place to support students while the ISU PD made sure both parties were staying physically safe.
“My role as dean of students is really as an advocate for students and ensuring that we're supporting peaceful and safe expression,” Hurte said. “We created the Demonstration Safety Team probably about a year ago, just really looking at experiences of other institutions and how there have been a lot of challenges in such spaces.
“We wanted to make sure that, from a staff standpoint, we had support measures in place to make sure that our students were supported and safe when these types of demonstrations happen on campus.”
Hurte and Martino Harmon, senior vice president of Student Affairs, said students were passionate and were using their voice in a respective manner that represented the values of the institution, such as being inclusive, respectful and welcoming.
“I am delighted that students really wanted to rally and care for each other and especially the Ames High students,” said Brad Freihoefer, director of the Center for LGBTQIA+ Student Success. “I saw a lot of different folks from a lot of different faiths and communities coming together this morning and I think the take away from today is that people are loved and cared about here in Ames.”
Madelyn Ostendorf contributed reporting.