February 12, 2013

On Love and Hatred

Earlier this week, I received an e-mail from a friend from high school and college letting me know that the Westboro Baptist Church is planning to stage a protest at our alma mater, Vassar College, because we "say its okay to be gay" and are an "Ivy League whorehouse." These are the fine folks who picketed the funerals of the Sandy Hook Elementary School victims and regularly protest at the funerals of fallen soldiers. Because nothing says God's love and God Bless America like a sign blaming the deceased for having sinned. 

I mean, really?

At first I rolled my eyes. The WBC is a fringe extremist group who even the KKK says is inappropriate-- and what does is say about you when they think you've crossed the line? This isn't the first time my college has been criticized or made fun of for being too liberal, too gay, too feminist, too whatever. As it turns out, Vassar is indeed pretty liberal, it has a very vibrant and open queer community who is largely accepted on our campus, and the students tend to be academically engaged and prone to enthusiastic, informed debates about politics, social constructions, and just about anything else you can think of. And we have a Quidditch team, which tells you something about how goofy we can be.
Vassar College Library

The WBC thinks that being all of those things dooms us to eternal hellfire. They think that being all of those things makes us sinners, whores, and fags. They think that a college that promotes diversity and kindness is equivalent to being a whorehouse. And they think that they are delivering God's word in saying all of those things.

I'm angry about this for so many reasons. I'm angry because I love my alma mater and am fiercely proud to be a Vassar alumna. I'm angry because I think it's wrong to use terrible language like "whore" and "fag" when describing college students who just want to read Chaucer, throw around a frisbee, sing in an a cappella group, or finish their Chemistry homework. I'm angry because Vassar's history of commitment to education and status as one of the first women's colleges in this country is being compared to prostitution. I'm angry that the WBC is using God to justify hatred, as though they somehow have a direct line to God and have been elected to pass judgment on their fellow men and women (hint: they don't, and they haven't).


The thing about anger is that it starts to drain you. Hatred boils up inside, fury coursing through your veins, but ultimately it leaves you in tatters and prevents you from moving forward. I'm angry at the WBC, sure. I'm angry that this group wants to say that the college's "sins" are worse than any sins they might have committed themselves, and I'm angry that they think higher education is some liberal conspiracy to turn the youth of America into gay pedophilic prostitutes (hint: it's not). But anger isn't enough. Anger ultimately fails me. Hatred isn't the answer.

As I scrolled through my Facebook feed last night, post after post was from my fellow Vassar alumnae/i, laughing at the term "Ivy League whorehouse," declaring pride in having received a fine education from an institution that taught us to be better, urging others not to respond to the WBC's plans with hatred, but with kindness. Campaigns sprung up like this one, asking for donations in Vassar's name to the Trevor Project. Articles were written and Facebook groups were formed, spreading the word on what was happening and generating discussion on how in moments like this, we must respond with love.

That's what we learned at our college. That when voices spew hatred, we should not be consumed by that hate. That when religion is distorted to attack others, it doesn't meant that all who are spiritual believe the same thing. That in the face of hatred, we should remind ourselves that love can be so, so much more powerful.

So today and every day, I choose love. I choose acceptance. I choose understanding. 

What choice will you make?