The Westboro Baptist Church cut its planned protest route short Thursday for reasons unknown to Pitt.
“All we know is they didn’t come,” University spokesperson Joe Miksch said in an email.
The Westboro Baptist Church protesters — four women toting multiple signs each — arrived at the corner of Forbes and Morewood avenues on Carnegie Mellon University’s campus at around 1:15 p.m. The protesters got into a black van around 1:45 p.m. and drove away. They didn’t arrive at any of the other planned locations on their protest route, as per their website, including Pitt and Duquesne.
Pittsburgh police arrested a man at about 1:45 p.m. on charges of disorderly conduct, according to city police spokesperson Sonya Toler.
The arrest took place near the intersection of Forbes and Morewood avenues. Toler said the man rushed past officers, grabbed a sign out of one of the WBC demonstrator’s hands and attempted to rip it in half.
WBC members held signs that read “God Sends the Cancer” and “God Hates Sin Enablers” while singing parodies of famous songs, including Carrie Underwood’s “Blown Away.” One protester stomped on a pride flag while she sang.
The counter protesters filled the sidewalk and spilled over onto Forbes as they chanted “hey ho, homophobia’s got to go” at the WBC members across the street. Among the counter protesters was a man playing the bagpipes, who stood right next to the WBC with the police separating them.
A Carnegie Mellon police spokesperson said about 300-500 counter protesters were present — including community members, Christian church groups and CMU’s LGBTQ+ campus group — all positioned on the opposite side of a line of policemen.
Emma Wilson, a sophomore nursing major at Carlow, joined the counter protesters on Forbes to support her friends who are part of Carlow’s LGBTQ+ community.
“Some people say Pittsburgh isn’t diverse, but I think today you saw that it really is and everyone came out to really support each other,” Wilson said. “It was honestly touching to see that that’s the community we are a part of.”
Mary Jeffries, an undecided Pitt junior, graduated Oakland Catholic High School — the second stop on Westboro Baptist Church’s planned route.
“I’m Catholic, and I don’t think they represent the full Christian message of ‘do unto others as they would do unto you,’” she said.
The WBC — classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center — announced their plan to protest in the Oakland area on Sept. 24. The picket schedule had stops at CMU, Central Catholic High School, Oakland Catholic High School, Pitt and Duquesne within the time frame of 1:30 and 3:45 p.m. on Thursday.
WBC protesters never arrived at Pitt, but counter protesters gathered on the corner of Forbes Avenue and Bigelow Boulevard. The crowd held signs responding to the group’s hateful rhetoric, including signs reading “Gay and proud” and “Christianity is not Westboro Baptist Church.”
Hannah Riley, a Pitt first year majoring in neuroscience, heard about WBC’s picket schedule through friends. She identifies as gay and said she came to “stand up for [her] people.”
“I think them not coming means we might’ve won,” she said “It rained for a reason.”
Contributed reporting by Caroline Bourque, Madeline Gavatorta, Rachel Glasser, Nina Kneuer and Anandhini Narayanan.