Macomb community gathers in support for the Rally for Love

Devon Greene , editor-in-chief

Western Illinois University and its LGBTQIA+ community held its first Rally for Love on Nov. 17.

In response to a planned protest from the Kansas based Westboro Baptist Church, Macomb community members and Western Illinois faculty planned the Rally for Love to be held on the same day.

With Saturday being the first day of fall break, the turnout for the Rally for Love was not expected to be very  high. Along with the beginning of break, the weather forecast was bleak with temperatures expected in the low 20s to mid 30s with expected rain and snow.

When the day came, the student and communityturnout exceeded expectations for event organizer Chase DeWitt.

“No one. I’m going to be honest with you, I run a lot ofevents. I don’t expect anyone to show up until they do,” DeWitt said. “But, after seeing the public outcry on social media and the different meetings that I’ve attended when this event was getting organized, I was exceedingly more hopeful and I’m very happy to see the turnout.”

Only halfway through the event, DeWitt had counted400 members of the community either inside Tanner Circle, or out in the rain on Q-Lot. Many students that had planned to go home on Friday adjusted their plans for the event on Saturday. “I know that was the case for a lot of students but I also know that a lot of students specifically stayed for this,” DeWitt said. “Considering WBC, I think it was a happy accident that they ended up being here at the same time that our rally was being planned.”

One member of the student population that stood out in the crowd was Jordan Davidson. Davidson was dressed in rainbow suit, blue shirt and rainbow tie. Davidson walked through the crowd of Q-Lot with a smile on his face. He was stopped multiple times by fellow community members asking for photos.

Jordan Davidson found his suit online when he was searching for pride wear.

“I wanted to wear it to represent the LGBT community and I’ve worn it to other events,” Davidson said. “I figured this was another event to not only tell them that love wins over hate always but to support my LGBT community.”

Like some other members of the community, Davidson was surprised when he heard that Westboro was coming to Western’s campus.

“I was surprised honestly,” Davidson said. “You know, Macomb is not as big of an area as some other places. Putting myself in their shoes, I would think they would want to spread their hate to more populated areas. After I found out about it, I figured, I have to be here to support and counter protest their hate.”

Westboro Baptist Church sent five members of their community and they set up at the intersection of Lafayette Street and University Drive. Fences, traffic cones, construction barriers and Macomb police officers protected members of the church.

Across the street stood around 40 to 50 counter protestors. The counter protesters held signs and played music from their cars. Songs like “Dancing Queen” by ABBA and “We Are the Champions” by Queen blared out of a white Ford Sudan with  Colorado license plates.

Dewitt saw the event as an extreme success and was thankful for all the support that was shown from those who attended the event. He was overcome with emotion as he watched the event take place.

“Ecstatic, exceedingly ecstatic. I think it’s the same sentiment from a lot of my staff here. They are very excited that the community has shown so much support here. You can see how many posters were handmade. Specifically I do want to thank the organizations that have helped us out.” Businesses from around Macomb offered various goods and services in support of the event. McAllister’s and Wal-Mart provided food and beverages for musicians, community members gave donations for shirts and stickers, Western provided the estate for Q-Lot and the young business members of Macomb helped organize the event.

With the success of the event, DeWitt and the Western Illinois community is planning to make the rally an annual event. “It’s good to know that this is going to be a yearly rally now. It’ll be Western’s first LGBT+ pride rally that will be happening on Western’s campus.”