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Photographer's Note

This unassuming house in a suburban neighborhood of Topeka makes a powerful statement: this is the Equality House. Right next door is the Mott (Transgender) House. The reason for all this love (!) is the location: both of these rather modest homes are right across the street from the world headquarters of the infamous Westboro Baptist "Church": you know, the ones (almost all of whom are members of a single family) who picket the funerals of deceased US military servicepersons, mass casualty victims, celebrities and LGBTQ+ personages, some of whom have been murdered, with signs that say "Thank God for Dead Soldiers!" and "God Sent the Shooter!"

Yeah. Those guys.

I can't even post a picture of their compound, because of the signage: I would probably be kicked off of TE for even posting one, because clearly-disturbed members of this radical pseudo-Christian activist group (I don't even hate THEM; these people clearly need help, but I'm just not sure what kind) have banners plastered all over their buildings that state "God Hates ..." well, EVERYBODY but them, apparently. Just as well: the best course of action is to deny them any and all publicity. That said, they're perfectly within their constitutional right to say what they're saying, but no one has to give them so much as a nanosecond of airtime (which I just did, I guess - ah, me). The fervor has died down considerably after founder Fred Phelps somehow ran afoul of his own family and was kicked out of his own "church," dying shortly thereafter, but the hate campaign continues, and the "church" is now run by even more fanatic members of his large, extended family.

One last point, and proof positive that LOVE CONQUERS ALL: there's a GREAT TED Talk posted on YouTube and elsewhere, by Meghan Phelps-Roper, a former member and the daughter of the current leader, that I highly encourage everyone to check out. It talks about her experiences within the "church" and what led to her eventually deciding to leave (escape?), which involved leaving the only world she had ever known and being shunned and estranged from family members still connected with the group, for life. Her poignant but inspiring talk should be standard viewing for any and all activists, as she provides a firsthand account of how to really reach the minds and hearts of even the most vocal, vicious and fanatic opponents. As a quick preview: it ain't by spewing hate and vitriol (and occasionally throwing incendiaries) at them. It's by engaging people in thought-provoking discussion and even spirited, but always respectful, debate and discussion, which causes people to challenge their OWN viewpoints, opinions and beliefs, which is the only way to make any meaningful progress. Real change, especially internal change, always comes from WITHIN, not from without. It's almost impossible to change someone else's mind or way of thinking. They have to do that themselves. I quote Einstein: "I never try to teach my students. I simply try to provide the conditions under which they can learn." Well said.

So, let's accentuate the positive! This house and its associated foundation was established by Aaron Jackson, founder of the non-profit organization Planting Peace. This organization has long promoted tolerance and acceptance of members of the LGBTQ+ community, and has staged elaborate PR events, such as launching a pride flag into space and claiming Antarctica in the name of LGBTQ+ rights. Jackson purchased the house for $81,000 when he saw that it was up for sale while casually browsing Google Earth back in 2013. A veteran, whose brothers- and sisters-in-arms have been the frequent target of vicious hate campaigns by the group (the aforementioned protesting and picketing of the funerals of deceased service members with signs such as "Thank God for Dead Soldiers," "God Killed Your Sons," Pray for More Dead Soldiers," and "You're All Going to Hell!") was the one who painted the house with its current rainbow color scheme. The fruitcakes across the way apparently approved, surprisingly, because they said that the constant reminder in their own neighborhood kept their attention focused squarely on their message.

Members of the Planting Peace organization lived in the house, and it also became the main office in 2016, so the interior is no longer open to visitors, but guests are welcome and even encouraged to take photos on the property. I saw someone taking their graduation photos in front of it while I was there, so it's become something of a town celebrity!

Some major events:

** In 2013, the year it was purchased, a five-year-old girl set up a lemonade stand selling Pink Lemonade for Peace, a campaign which eventually raised $30,000.

** A wedding was held on the lawn that same year to commemorate the historic Supreme Court ruling recognizing the legitimacy of gay marriage, which was officiated by an ordained Baptist minister who was the executive director of the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists.

** In related news, a staged "wedding" between Gandalf and Albus Dumbledore was held outside the house on the lawn in June, 2015.

**In October of that year, the organization staged a drag show on the property entitled "Drag Down Bigotry," and the house held its first Open House event in 2014.

Not surprisingly, however, the house has been the target of sometimes-violent counteroffensive efforts: it was vandalized in October, 2016, with homophobic slurs and seven bullet holes, clearly illustrating that the stakes are high. Owner Jackson released a statement, saying that "the blatant acts of hate we experience at the Equality House mirror the acts of hate and discrimination our LGBT family experiences every day. Planting Peace has seen an increase in hate mail, death threats and physical acts of vandalism and violence... According to the FBI, the LGBT community is more likely to experience a hate crime than any other minority group." I honestly doubt that anyone from the neighboring WBC was responsible. They're too clever for that. I was likely the work of other unaffiliated individuals who share their same sentiments; there are certainly no shortage of them. In any event, the defacement was was kept in place, with visitors encouraged to write messages of love over them. Love is Louder.

The Mott (Transgender) House located directly next door was acquired later, in June, 2016. It was painted with the pink, white and blue colors of the transgender pride flag. Use of it was then donated to the Capital City Equality Center in 2017. It was renamed the Mott House in 2019 after the sudden death of Stephanie Mott, one of Kansas's most prominent and vocal transgender activists.

Final word: one of my favorite internet memes reads "Live the kind of life such that the WBC would picket your funeral!" Amen.

For more info:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s8gwagpj1J4

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Additional Photos by Terez Anon (terez93) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 83 W: 78 N: 912] (1707)
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