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Westboro Baptist Church neighbors spread peace with a side of lemonade

  • The Kansas City Star
  • Published Wednesday, June 19, 2013, at 1:54 p.m.
  • Updated Thursday, June 20, 2013, at 12:14 a.m.

Westboro Baptist Church has long used boisterous pickets and self-made videos to bring attention to its anti-gay stance.

But for the last few months, a group across the street from the Topeka-based church’s compound has been using high-profile stunts to gain attention for its causes.

On Saturday night, the nonprofit group Planting Peace plans to hold a same-sex wedding ceremony in the front yard of the group’s Topeka home.

Two women from Arkansas are expected to be joined by a group of roughly 50 friends and family members.

“It’s a sensitive time,” said Planting Peace co-founder Aaron Jackson, referring to this month’s expected Supreme Court decisions on two cases related to gay marriage.

“It sends a signal to the Supreme Court that this is what we want.”

Saturday’s ceremony is merely one of many publicity-seeking events the group has orchestrated in the past six months.

Since setting up shop in Topeka in January, Planting Peace, which raises money for causes ranging from rain forest preservation to orphanages, has attempted to ruffle the feathers of its notorious neighbor.

In March, group members had their two-bedroom Topeka home, dubbed the Equality House, painted in rainbow stripes to resemble the gay pride flag.

Media outlets from The Washington Post to “Good Morning America” picked up the story and helped the group amass contributions totaling more than $50,000. Last Friday, the group found a new wave of momentum for its anti-bullying initiative in the form of a pig-tailed, lemonade-hawking 5-year-old.

Accompanied by her father, Jon Sink, kindergartner-to-be Jayden Sink spent four hours in the front yard of the Equality House, happily selling “Pink Lemonade for Peace” as members of the anti-gay church looked on from across the street.

Initially, the stand was intended to be nothing more than your run-of-the mill juice stand, a way for Sink to raise a few bucks for a worthy cause while teaching his daughter about the importance of lending a helping hand.

The idea formed a few months back, when Jon Sink said Jayden began asking him to help her arrange her own stand. Sink, who lives with his family in the Kansas City area and runs a music/art/philanthropy company called Fresh Cassette, had recently read about Planting Peace’s Equality House and was intrigued by the group’s anti-bullying cause.

He contacted Jackson in April about donating his daughter’s lemonade stand profits to Planting Peace, and he was invited by Jackson to hold the sale in the Equality House’s front yard.

As Jayden’s story began to spread via social media last week, the stand transformed into a philanthropic coup for Planting Peace.

Although only about 100 people turned out for the sale, Planting Peace also set up an online fundraiser for Jayden as a way for out-of-town supporters to contribute to the cause.

And as the story continued to grow, so, too, did the contributions.

By the end of the day Friday, the online fundraiser had pulled in $500 for Planting Peace, and as of Wednesday morning that number had jumped to more than $20,000, which includes the roughly $200 in cash that Jayden made Friday.

“Our intention was never to go stand up to the Westboro Baptist Church or any of that,” Sink said. “We went out there to support Planting Peace, to support all the initiatives they do, and to teach Jayden about peace and love and compassion.”

When Westboro learned about the planned same-sex marriage, spokeswoman Rachel Hockenbarger said that although Planting Peace is trying to oppose Westboro’s message, by doing such stunts, “They publish (our) message again to the world, for which we say thank you very much. Because we couldn’t possibly pay for all this publicity.”

To reach Dugan Arnett, call 816-234-4039 or send email to darnett@kcstar.com. Twitter: @duganarnett

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