A gay high school athlete in Missouri is the latest target of Westboro Baptist Church, the anti-LGBT hate group.
Jake Bain, a star football player at John Burroughs High School in St. Louis, came out publicly as gay last October at an all-school assembly.
“At the bottom of a pile a lot of times I would hear ‘stay down, you fag,’” Bain told KSDK. “I would hear, ‘this is no sport for gay people.’ I never gave my opponents the satisfaction that they were getting to me.”
Bain’s new opponent is the Topeka-based WBC, which has announced plans to stage a protest at John Burroughs Monday morning with three dozen picket signs, Fox 2 News reports. But students have planned a counterprotest on campus with the full support of high school faculty and staff, as well as the presence of local police officers.
“He is a great athlete, but he’s a better kid,” says Andy Abbott, Head of School. “He’s a great student and he’s a great friend to his peers.”
Bain’s classmates “have crafted a response to the WBC which avoids engaging with the WBC,” a school representative wrote to parents. “Instead, their focus is on taking care of one another and celebrating the inclusive community they are building for all students at Burroughs.”
Pride St. Louis, which has asked community members to join them in denouncing WBC’s planned protest, has launched a social media campaign using the hashtag #StandWithJake.
“The dangerous and divisive rhetoric from Westboro Baptist Church cannot go unchallenged,” says Pride St. Louis vice president Marty Zuniga in a statement. “We must show them that this is a community of inclusion and diversity, where the lives of LGBTQIA+ people are valued and protected.”
Bain, who has signed on to play for Indiana State, was recently honored as a “hometown hero” by the St. Louis Blues at the hockey teams’s LGBT Pride Night.
“From the beginning, I wanted to just be myself,” Bain says. “And I wanted to show people around St. Louis and everywhere else that you can be whoever you want to be.”
Though initially bothered by the protest, Bain is confident that his supporters will outnumber haters. “I was able to realize that if this international hate group is coming after me and my community,” he says, “then we must be doing something right.”