Protests at Holocaust Museum, Hermitage high

By Laura Geller - bio | email

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) – There were some tense moments at a Henrico High School as a national hate group protested the school's Gay Straight Student Alliance. The Westboro Baptist Church spread its message Tuesday at three local Jewish organizations and Hermitage High School.

It was a very volatile situation at Hermitage as members of the WBC greeted students with their message of hate as the school day ended. There was a lot of yelling back and forth.  Police monitored the situation, making sure it didn't get out of hand.

The battle lines were drawn. On one side was a handful of protesters, including one child, from the group out of Kansas. They were holding signs spewing hate.

On the other side, people from many different backgrounds banded together to support the school's Gay Straight Student Alliance. The organization is the reason Shirley Phelps-Roper told us the group chose to picket Hermitage.

"These kids don't have a clue! If they understood how absolutely that puts them in the cross hairs of a raging mad God, they wouldn't dare do it," she said.

Despite school officials' requests, dozens of students dressed in purple joined the counter protest.

"I'm so proud of everyone, like, I'm just really happy that everyone showed up and supported us," said GSA president Haley Bohmer.

It was an entirely different situation at the Virginia Holocaust Museum, as people of all faiths banded together in silent solidarity. Their message was one of defiance.

At one point museum director Jay Ipson, a holocaust survivor, asked the group to come inside.  He said he was trying to turn this into an educational experience.  The protesters refused the invitation.

Even so, Ipson said, "It was uplifting and a release that here I have an opportunity to look hate in the face and I'm in a free country."

School officials told us, despite concern from parents; attendance levels at Hermitage were normal Tuesday.  They also said they will not take any disciplinary action against the students who participated in the counter protests.

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