Protests in Philadelphia and Pottstown worry students


Media: Finley Leger '25

LGBTQ rights opponent gather beside Target in Pottstown

In recent weeks, Philadelphia and Pottstown have been the site of several protests organized by LGBTQ rights opponent groups, such as Americans for Truth About Homosexuality and the Westboro Baptist Church. While many of these protests were at with counter-demonstrations from LGBTQ activists and allies, the impact of these events is being felt by many young people in the city. 

For LGBTQ youth in particular, the protests have created a sense of fear and uncertainty. Many worry that the vocal opposition to their identities will lead to increased discrimination and harassment. Sophie Walsh ’24, current Co-President of HASOGI stated, “I think that HASOGI is really important because it offers support and shows people they aren’t alone when at a time like this it can feel very isolating.” According to the Human Rights Campaign, LGBTQ youth are already at a higher risk for experiencing bullying and harassment in schools and other public spaces. 

The protests have also had a broader impact on young people who support LGBTQ rights. Many feel frustrated and angry that their city is being used as a platform for hate speech. The American Civil Liberties Union has counted 452 anti-LGBTQ bills in the US so far in 2023. Reagarding these recent bills, Kaleigh Spatarella ’25 states, “It’s not good for LGBTQ+ youth or anyone that identifies within that community beause it’s hurtful and it can make them feel unsafe, leading to violence. It won’t benefit anybody.” In total this year, 25 bills have passed in 11 states, while double the amount of anti-LGBTQ bills passed last year.  

Logan Casey, the senior policy researcher of Movement Advancement Project, who research LGBTQ issues stated in an article, “Over the years we’ve seen many attacks on LGBTQ communities, but this moment is very different and frankly terrifying for many people.”  

Local LGBTQ organizations have been working to support young people in the wake of the protests. The Attic Youth Center, a nonprofit organization that provides services to LGBTQ youth, has seen an increase in calls and messages from young people seeking support. 

Overall, the impact of protests by LGBTQ rights opponents in Philadelphia was felt most acutely by the city’s young people. While LGBTQ organizations are working to provide support and resources, many worry that the protests will have a lasting impact on the mental health and wellbeing of LGBTQ youth. 

On April 30, a group of Hill School students took part in the weekly Sunday Target trip. Students who have participated in this trip numerous times were met with a surprise: another protest by LGBTQ rights opponents. Meg O’Halloran ’25 was one of the many on the bus that day and provided insight on the occurrences. 

 “I saw a crowd gathering at the windows. Everyone was tense and uneasy, speaking in low voices,” O’Halloran said. “When I looked out the window, I saw about a dozen people standing on a hill on the side of the road. They were holding signs protesting homosexuality and claiming that gay people will go to Hell.” 

In particular, students that took part on the shopping trip were most alarmed by the composition of the protesting group.  

 “I think what shocked me most was the kids — there were a couple of really young kids up there,” O’Halloran said. “I doubt they could even understand the signs they were holding, yet there they were, standing on a hill with their parents, spreading hate.”  

This incident caused a lot of commotion in the group of students present that day. It is not common for a large group to be entirely on the same page, but it was reported that all agreed that they had one thing in common at that moment: outrage. 

Some students, however, expressed the need to be mindful of the diverse make up of the Hill community, as well as the world at-large.  

“All I can do is be hopeful that those who hate will come to realize the severity of their words, actions, and ideas, and the harmful impact they have,” an anonymous HASOGI member said. “There is no reason to hate millions of people who just want to live their lives and pursue happiness like everybody else.”