One year ago today, March 19, Planting Peace, a non-profit organization, launched an incredible initiative that sought to combat the efforts of the notorious Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas: the Equality House.
Situated immediately across from the Westboro Baptist Church compound, Planting Peace founder Aaron Jackson purchased the house with the intention of transforming it into a highly visible celebration of Pride. He did just that, bringing together a team of individuals to initially paint the house the colors of the rainbow flag.
"Creating the Equality House has been a truly rewarding and humbling experience," Jackson told The Huffington Post in an email. "I’m very proud of Planting Peace and our staff for taking the jump and becoming a part of this incredible movement."
Jackson added, "However, We can’t just focus on what we have done but rather what still needs to be accomplished. Suicide rates among the LGBTQ community are staggering, it is illegal to be gay in many countries and in some you can ever be killed. It is imperative that we all come together, change this message, and actualize equal rights for sexual minorities."
Let's take a moment to look back at some of the most compelling and impactful moments and events spearheaded by the house since its inception. And be sure to check out a video about the Equality House above.
Jackson initially bought the Equality House after he saw a "For Sale" sign on the property while looking at Westboro Baptist Church on Google Maps. He previously told HuffPost Gay Voices
that he had always wanted to be involved in gay activism, but hadn't been sure of how to do it until this opportunity presented itself. He considers the high-profile visual statement to be a direct challenge to what Westboro Baptist preaches.
Five-year-old Jayden Sink set up a lemonade stand on the Equality House front lawn last summer
in an effort to raise money for peace in the midst of the Westboro Baptist Church's extreme hate. She not only raised $400 throughout the course of the day, but she also collected over $26,000 with an online campaign
. “Jayden represents the natural humanity we are born with," Davis Hammet, Director of Operations at Planting Peace, told The Huffington Post. "We come into this world compassionate, caring beings and only become hateful if we are taught to be.”
The "Drag Down Bigotry" drag show that took place at the Equality House last October aimed to raise funds for anti-bullying programs to benefit lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth.
The event brought out over 150 participants. "Our first 'Drag Down Bigotry' event was a huge success and we are very pleased with how many people participated in and/or supported our efforts," Jackson told The Huffington Post. "This was another successful step towards silencing the hate from the WBC and bringing awareness to the high suicide rate amongst our LGBTQ youth."
In honor of the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance, the Equality House established solidarity with the transgender community by painting the building the colors of the transgender flag
. "Transgender suicide, as well as murders of those that are transgender, are alarmingly high," Jackson told The Huffington Post. "I wanted the Equality House to play a role in bringing public awareness to this issue and to let those in the trans community know that we care. It is my belief that if you are an ally for the trans community, it is imperative that you be open and vocal about it. Acceptance and inclusion comes from education."
In order to bring visibility to the plight of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community living in Russia, the Equality House played host to a "Gay Olympics" last month
. The proceeds for the event went to the Spectrum Human Rights Alliance, a non-profit organization that helps LGBT Russians flee persecution and seek asylum. "Although the event itself was fun and silly the cause is a very serious one," Jackson told The Huffington Post. "What is happening to our LGBT friends in Russia is nothing short of an alarming crisis. The international community must continue to be vocal about our support for LGBT Russians."
Despite the incredible efforts of Planting Peace's Equality House, the group has come under fire for their efforts from more than just the Westboro Baptist Church. Planting Peace sponsors a number of orphanages around the world -- four in Haiti and two in India. Operating entirely through funding from the public, these orphanages take in children from the streets, other overcrowded orphanages and house children rescued out of the slave trade, as well as children with HIV/AIDS and children with severe mental and physical disabilities. Now, one of the organization's Haitian orphanages has lost its funding after a donor allegedly learned about Planting Peace's pro-LGBT initiatives. Interested in helping the organization restore funding for this orphanage? Head here for more information.