UMass has announced that it is prepared to stage a counter-protest in support of basketball star Derrick Gordon after controversial group, Westboro Baptist Church, announced last week that it would hold a rally against the young sports star for announcing that he is gay.
Sophomore, Gordon, has become the first openly gay NCAA athlete through his announcement last week. However, the controversial Westboro - a group known for its aggressive and offensive rallies, often targeting celebrities, soldiers' funerals, and gay people - announced last week that it would be sending members to Amherst to carry out a protest.
That announcement though has been met with contempt by UMass officials and students, with spokesman, Edward Blaguszewski telling the Boston Herald that WBC will be met with resistance if they show up near campus. "If people choose to come and protest, they have the right to do that, but certainly the university in total, the community in total, I'm sure will stand proudly behind Derrick and his decision."
Acknowledging the school's choice to support the athlete, the spokesman further stated, "I don't think anybody's looking for a confrontation. I think the way to most appropriately respond is to demonstrate in support of Derrick and show that unity and confidence and support for his decision, and make that clear across campus and across the state."
Groups around the university are already showing their support for the athlete. A UMass group with a Facebook page called UMass United: #StandwithDerrick now has over 1,000 people who have confirmed they will join the rally. The page announced that supporters will gather from 11:45 to 1:30 p.m. at the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and Commonwealth Avenue, where Westboro protesters are expected.
Westboro is an independent group, whose message and methods have been slammed by all mainstream Christian churches. In line with this, The Boston Herald has highlighted that local church ministers from nearby Amherst and Haydenville are asking members of local churches to join the UMass rally as well to stand up against Westboro, who often protest shouting at people that God hates them and will be sending them to Hell.
In contrast, those hosting the school's rally have made it clear that their counter protest will be free of hate and violence. "In no way do we want to perpetuate hate, violence or even give attention to Westboro – we are going to be there to give support to Derrick Gordon and other LGBTQ students," their Facebook post read.
The post also warned, "Do not engage [WBC's] protesters physically or verbally (the WBC makes their money by suing those who do engage). The strength of our statement is in our spirit. No yelling, no hate. We can't stand unified against Westboro if we act in the way they do."
Umass spokesman, Blaguszewski told The Boston Herald that the school is not yet sure if the protesters will actually show up, but campus security is prepared to keep things under control if they do.
"This is a college campus and there is a voicing of opinion that occurs regularly. We're certainly familiar with how to manage those to protect people's rights," he said. "And, if there are any concerns about public safety, we are always prepared for that, too."