By John Wright
Members of Westboro Baptist Church plan to picket two locations in Houston this week as part of the anti-LGBT hate group’s so-called “God H8s Trannies Tour.”
The Topeka, Kansas-based church—famous for its “God Hates Fags” signs and protests at military funerals—will visit both the Montrose Center and the University of Houston on Friday, according to a schedule posted on its website.
The main impetus for the church’s Houston visit appeared to be the annual Gender Infinity Conference, set for UH’s Student Center on Friday and Saturday, September 16 and 17. The conference brings together healthcare professionals and families from across the country to promote acceptance of transgender youth.
Westboro Baptist, which is scheduled to picket the conference from noon to 1 p.m. Friday, acknowledges on its website that in the wake of the legalization of same-sex marriage, trans issues are now at the forefront of LGBT rights.
“This gender confusion is simply another shade of sodomite abomination!” the group wrote. “The Gender Infinity Conference is a den of liars who want to change reality to a pronoun fantasy land.”
Westboro Baptist representatives didn’t respond to a request for further comment.
The Rev. Troy Treash, senior pastor of Houston’s Resurrection Metropolitan Community Church, is coordinating the Gender Infinity Conference’s response to Westboro.
Treash said he was recruiting volunteers to stage a peaceful counter-protest between the Student Center and the Westboro picketers, in part to shield attendees from their hate speech.
“We are having people with signs and posters of positive care and love for our transgender family,” Treash said. “I’m sure we’ll have quite a few rainbows flying around, too. I don’t think you ever want hate to be freely distributed without some love present as well.”
Space will be limited in a designated free speech zone, and organizers of the conference are urging people not to show up for the counterprotest unless they first contact Treash at [email protected].
Treash said the Westboro picket is not only an indication of the conference’s success, but also an opportunity to engage people who may be undecided on trans issues but don’t want to be associated with the church.
“Anything that can provoke education and learning, and [perhaps] even transform people from being fence-sitters to being defenders of those being marginalized, is a good thing,” he said. “I’ll consider it a success if we have students engaged politically and supporting trans people, [especially] if they’ve never done it before.”
Treash added that while their tactics may differ, he draws little distinction between Westboro and local groups that opposed Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance—including the Texas Pastor Council, the Conservative Republicans of Texas, and Grace Community Church.
“These people speak those people’s hearts, and it’s ugly,” Treash said.
Prior to picketing the Gender Infinity Conference, Westboro members are scheduled to visit the Montrose Center from 11 a.m. to 11:40 a.m on Friday.
“The God H8s Trannies tour takes us to the Montrose Center in Houston Texas, where confusion abounds,” Westboro wrote on its website. “We will minister to the doomed souls surrounding this medical trannie pimp center, Lord willing.”
Executive Director Ann Robison said the Montrose Center wasn’t planning any formal response to the Westboro protest. In fact, on its Facebook page, the center is advising people not to come there between 10:30 a.m. and noon on Friday unless they have official business.
“We have consulted with other Centers who have been protested and have been advised the best way to frustrate them is to not engage them,” the center wrote.
Robison said she believes Westboro members are coming to Houston for the Gender Infinity Conference, but decided to visit the local LGBT community center while they’re in town.
“At least they recognize us as the community center,” she said. “It’s kind of a badge of honor that we’re in a league with all these national things that they’ve done.”
Robison also noted that Westboro members sometimes don’t show up for scheduled pickets listed on the church’s website. The church has been known to publicize “ghost pickets” in order to make people scramble to prepare counter-protests for no reason.
“We’re going to let the police know,” Robison said. “There’s a 50-50 chance they won’t even show. We think they’re ridiculous. We are not going to allow them to disrupt the events and services here, and we will protect our clients and our visitors.”