These days, there are few words more synonymous with hate than Westboro, regardless of the fact that the name is generally followed by Baptist Church. This supposed house of God has garnered a serious reputation as of late with their consistent protests of military funerals, most recently and unfathomably picketing of funeral services for the Sandy Hook Elementary victims and their incredibly loud, extremely firm anti-gay views. This past week, however, Aaron Jackson, co-founder of the nonprofit organization Planting Peace, revealed his colorful plan to show that “where there is hate, there can also be love.”
Jackson, at the helm of Planting Peace, has already made a great impact on our society by aiding charities around the world, including those that support rain forest conservation, de-worming projects and orphanages. It was last year, when the story of 9-year-old Josef Miles went viral, that he set his sights on committing efforts to the LGBT community and their fight for equality. Miles’ silent protest, a handwritten sign that read “God Hates No One” in rebuttal to Westboro’s infamous and cruel “God Hates Fags” posters, inspired Jackson to join the cause; he wanted to do something to help the “thousands and thousands” of children who are bullied over LGBT issues everyday.
And so it began. Immediately after reading about Miles, Jackson was on the hunt for more information. Before long, he had found and purchased the home directly across the street from the Westboro Baptist Church and consequently, landed himself in the heart of a community held together, in part, by beliefs that breed anti-gay sentiment and bullying; Jackson and the world have now learned a large majority of the houses surrounding the church are owned by it’s members. For several months, the fact that Jackson had taken up residence was barely noteworthy, but this week he made the Westboro Baptist Church aware that he had no intent of remaining unnoticed and that the overbearing beliefs of his new neighbors would not silence him.
Jackson’s residence, now being dubbed the “Equality House,” properly introduced the organization and it’s leader this week when it received a fresh coat of paint or rather, six coats of multi-colored paint. In his first stance towards anti-bullying and equal rights, Jackson had the house painted the colors of the gay pride flag; a true symbol of acceptance and sincere act of kindness to kick off an equality campaign that is sure to make waves.
The Equality House not only acts as a symbol for the type of kindness that deserves to be uncovered, shouted from the multi-colored rooftops, but also as a spotlight that shines on individual contributions of kindness. While the intent may have always been to symbolically paint the house, finding a person willing to wield the brush was no easy task. Many businesses in and around Topeka, Kansas fear the wrath of Westboro, the affect supporting a cause they so vehemently oppose would have on their personal and financial well being. However, yet again, kindness prevailed in the face of ignorance and hate when contractor Mike McKessor, a military veteran, agreed to take on the job. McKessor was willing to offer his services in an effort to help stand up to a group that both dishonors his service and hinders equal rights, despite the possible consequence.
Needless to say, the house that was painted with pride has not gone unnoticed. Midwestern residents have paid visits to the home, dropping off small donations; tourists have passed through to take photos of the much talked about symbol of pride; and a young gay man even visited the property looking for a sense of belonging, leaving a note that read, “My parents became violent when I came out to them, many years ago. I woke up thinking about that. I cried all the way here. I walked on your property and I stopped crying. I feel peace. Thank you.” Kindness clearly travels fast.
Jackson, with his unwavering beliefs and courage to stand up to the world’s extremists, has proven that kindness and love can absolutely prevail in the face of hate. The Equality House will soon serve as a residence to those who decide to commit their services to the campaign that has been born, but it has already reminded the world, through the stories of Jackson, Miles and McKessor, that there is infinite kindness in the world. I believe we are beginning to learn that when we fight hate with love, there are few wars we are unable to win. No matter the hate that exists, despite it’s intensity and breadth, love and kindness will grow wherever it is planted.