A gay rights organization has forged a truce with Westboro Baptist Church
By RYAN GORMAN
America's most infamous anti-gay church has reluctantly made peace with a gay rights organization directly across the street.
The rainbow-painted Equality House was set up 18 months ago in Topeka, Kansas, only a couple hundred feet from Westboro Baptist Church, an organization whose web address is a gay slur.
Both groups sit on opposite sides of the street from each other in a very deliberate demonstration by Equality House of freedom of speech.
"This is the first amendment right here," Davis Hammet, one of three charity workers living in the bungalow, told the Guardian. "Within 50 feet you have a rainbow house and you have people telling them to burn in hell."
Equality House preaches a message of peace, love and happiness across the street from a building draped with a "God hates America" sign. Many of its volunteers have defected from Westboro.
"A lot of people would think that in a situation like this we would have two cannons pointed against each other," Hammet told the paper.
But the reality is far from hostile. Despite this obvious difference of opinion, the neighbors share small talk and have even helped each other at times.
"I go out jogging in the morning, and they're taking out the trash, and we have small talk," Hammet explained. "Like, 'Hey, it's a beautiful day outside' or 'This damn snow: I wish I could get warm'. Just basic things that you say to neighbors."
The groups have exchanged more than just pleasantries, they even have each other's cellphone numbers, which came in handy during a recent act of vandalism that left Equality House's gay pride flags dumped in WBC's front yard.
"A criminal has taken your flags and put them in our yard. We have put them in your mailbox. We would like to return them to you," a text message from a WBC member to Hammet read one morning, he told the Guardian.
Hammet admitted being surprised, but said it was not the first such message he received from the hateful group known for protesting soldier's funerals and the streets of Manhattan thanking God for 9/11 and claiming the deaths were a punishment from God to the country.
After WBC founder Fred Phelps died earlier this year, Hammet sent text messages to church members with his condolences. One person replied "thank you," he recalled.
He saw the gesture as a watershed moment.
Other gestures, including a breakfast invite on Twitter from Equality House to WBC – replete with rainbow pancakes – was met with a "burn in hell response" from the church's now-suspended account.
Equality House has also had gay weddings, drag shows and other gay pride-related events on the roof or in the front yard, in full view of WBC congregants.
But not everything is one-upmanship, Equality House is also raising money for other charities on the back of the church's controversial actions.
When WBC announced plans to picket actor Robin Williams' funeral, Equality House announced a fundraiser for Williams' favorite charity. It raised $100,000.
Despite what appears to be at least a tolerance of each other by the two groups, WBC members have drawn a line in the sand.
"We're always cordial," Rebekah Phelps-Davis told the Guardian. "We are friendly with them, but we will not be friends with them."
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