The Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) has effectively roused public anger for its pickets of military funerals, sites of national tragedy, and LGBTQ+ cultural events. Counterprotests, some mournful and some festive, are sites where scholars can investigate the ambivalence of public response to homophobia. This article draws from ethnographic observations of 107 WBC pickets and interviews with 183 counterprotesters to create a profile of a typical large counterprotest of WBC. The article then considers how the comic, tragic, and burlesque frames of Kenneth Burke can be applied to analyze counterprotest activity, illuminating how WBC is used by communities as a foil for their own hurtful treatment of vulnerable members. Finally, it argues, based on observation of counterprotests and consulting work with organizations planning counterprotests, for the adoption of the comic frame, not for the good of WBC but for the good of communities seeking better care of targets of homophobia.
Rebecca Barrett-Fox is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Arkansas State University. She is the author of God Hates: Westboro Baptist Church, American Nationalism, and the Religious Right (University Press of Kansas, 2016), an ethnographic account of the United States’ most famous antigay church and an exploration of its relationship to other, more mainstream antigay religious groups. Her work has appeared in the Journal of Hate Studies, Thought & Action, Radical Teacher, the Journal of Religion and Popular Culture, and elsewhere. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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