If you really wanted to stick it to the Westboro Baptist Church – you know, the Fred Phelps-led small but loud group of hateful people who picket funerals and other high-profile events around the country as retaliation for America’s acceptance of gays and abortion and a bunch of other things they don’t agree with – what’s the most creative thing you could do?
I can’t think of a better idea than buying a house right across the street from the church and painting it in the rainbow colors of the pride flag. That’s what Aaron Jackson did, and now those who are turned off by Westboro’s message have a new reason to be hopeful. The Equality House aims to spread a message of love and peace.
Jackson and a friend moved into the new house and painted the house with the help of volunteers. They didn’t publicize their plans in advance, so WBC members were most likely shocked when they noticed the new paint job.
I had been considering making an ironic visit to the Westboro Baptist Church already, so when I heard about this new rainbow house, I knew I had to see it myself. I set off for Topeka, Kansas to take a look.
My visit to Westboro Baptist Church and the Equality Rainbow House
I arrived at the same time as the postman. It was weird to watch him deliver mail to the rainbow house, then cross the street and deliver mail to Westboro. It suddenly dawned on me how bizarre his daily routine is.
Imagine if your everyday job was to deliver mundane junk mail and supermarket circulars to such a notorious institution as the WBC. That would mess with my mind. “Gotta make sure Fred Phelps knows what’s on sale at the Pic ‘n’ Save this week!”
When I stopped by nobody seemed to be home at Westboro. I thought I saw Michelle Shocked peeking out one of the windows, but perhaps that was just my imagination.
Here’s a pic of WBC’s trash can on the street. I’ll leave it up to you whether you’d like to take this opportunity to construct a metaphor involving “Westboro Baptist Church” and “garbage,” or take the high road in the name of peace and love.
As for the Equality House, it stood loud and proud. I noticed it from a few blocks away, well before I saw WBC, thanks to the tall rainbow and American flags flying above. On this particular day, a snowstorm had created the opportunity for some icy artwork.
Snowpeople for equality!
Things to know about the Westboro Baptist Church’s location
For some reason I had imagined that Westboro would be situated in a rural location, but it turns out that WBC is smack in the middle of a friendly, walkable suburban neighborhood just a couple miles from downtown Topeka. There are sidewalks on the block and free street parking as well, so you can get as close as you like.
Wave to the surveillance cameras!
The area surrounding WBC is actually just like any other American suburb. This is what the block looks like in winter.
The shopping mall down the street has tattoo parlors and liquor stores. There’s so much sin surrounding Westboro!
I include these photos to point out that WBC’s homebase is not some neighborhood full of loonies who all believe what Fred Phelps preaches. It’s an incredibly normal American town. Westboro is just one building on a block of seemingly regular families going about their business, so don’t get the impression that Topeka itself is a bad place because of the WBC.
It’s the kind of neighborhood where you can walk two blocks from the Westboro Church and rainbow house to the Arby’s on the corner, where you can still see the rainbow colors out the window as you scarf down your roast beef sandwich.
Visiting the Equality House and the Transgender House
The residents of the rainbow house welcome visitors to walk on their property to take pics. Go right up on their lawn and snap away, and share your images with the world. They even say visitors can take some veggies or pull weeds in their community garden. You can read more about their mission at http://plantingpeace.org.
The house was featured on lots of news reports at the time of its painting. Property owners now report that they get about 150 visitors per day.
For those who haven’t been following this story lately, here’s an update. In 2016, Jackson was able to buy the property next door to the equality house (thanks largely to donations from supporters) and decided to name it “The Transgender House.” It was painted in the colors of the transgender flag and stands as a symbol of acceptance for the trans community, which has one of the highest suicide rates of any demographic group.
This updated photo from Planting Peace shows how the street looks now:
Street parking is free and readily available. Just be respectful of the other neighbors, who might be bothered by all the attention their street is getting.
Would you visit the Equality House by the Westboro Baptist Church?