An LGBTQ activist is battling the Westboro Baptist Church in Pokémon Go. Yes really.

The trolliest church in the world may have met its match.

It's only been out for a few days, and Pokémon Go is already an international phenomenon, with players around the world doing what they can to "catch 'em all."

One of the more interesting stories, however, comes from Topeka, Kansas, home of the Westboro Baptist Church.

In the real world, the Westboro Baptist Church is known mostly as a hate group. But in the world of Pokémon Go, the church is listed as a gym, meaning it can be "fought for" by nearby players. Locals looking to troll the notorious church jumped at the opportunity.


Over the weekend, someone with a Clefairy Pokémon nicknamed "LoveIsLove" took control of the gym:


Amazing, right?

The church responded with its usual brand of cartoon-villain-like hatred.


I was interested in finding out who was behind the "LoveIsLove" Clefairy, and I had a pretty good idea of where to start.

I had a hunch that Davis Hammet, director of operations at the organization Planting Peace, might be the human behind the Clefairy.

Planting Peace is a nonprofit best known for the Equality House, a rainbow-colored house located across the street from the Westboro Baptist Church. Equality House bills itself as a symbol of compassion, peace, and positive change, and it serves as a resource center for Planting Peace's human rights and anti-bullying initiatives.


All screenshots courtesy of Davis Hammet.

In other words, Equality House strives to be Westboro's polar opposite — and it does a pretty good job.

Interestingly, Equality House is also included in the game as its own Pokéstop, a place where players can refuel on potions, Pokéballs, and other items.

In contrast to Westboro Baptist Church being a gym — a place of battle — it all kind of makes sense in its own way.

I reached out to Hammet, who told me that while he could confirm the person behind the "LoveIsLove" Clefairy was a teammate who helped take control of the WBC gym, he didn't know their identity in the real world.

In the days since "LoveIsLove" took control of the Westboro gym, its ownership has changed hands several times.

Hammet had an idea: He would win the gym back.

He hung up the phone and headed across the street to reclaim what was once his.

Along the way, he ran into a Staryu and sent along a photo of the the wild Pokémon with one of Westboro's hateful signs looming close behind.

It was certainly a sight to behold.


There, he and his Pokémon, which he nicknamed "Stop Hate!" won back control of the church. It was a symbolic victory, declared in the name of love and trolling.

Neat, right? All in a day's work, Hammet said.

"Planting Peace counters major messages of hate wherever they are, from Pokémon Go to the Republican convention."

Equality House attracts around 150 visitors per day, and with its new status as a Pokéstop, it's only seen traffic increase over the past few days.

The game may seem silly to some, but for others, it's having a big effect on their lives.

The Westboro Baptist Church battle is just one of many interesting narratives that have emerged from Pokémon Go's release.

Others include stories of strangers becoming friends and people claiming that the game's structure has helped them cope with depression.

More than 20 years since the Pokémon brand hit the U.S., it's still going strong.

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Whenever someone's words or behavior are called out as racist, a few predictable responses always follow. One is to see the word "racist" as a vicious personal attack. Two is to vehemently deny that whatever was said or done was racist. And three is to pull out the dictionary definition of racism to prove that the words or behavior weren't racist.

Honestly, as soon as someone refers to the dictionary when discussing racism, it's clear that person has never delved deeply into trying to understand racism. It's a big old red flag, every time.

I'm not an expert on race relations, but I've spent many years learning from people who are. And I've learned that the reality of racism is nuanced and complex, and resorting to a short dictionary definition completely ignores that fact. The dictionary can't include all of the ways racism manifests in individuals and society, and the limitations of dictionary definitions make it a poor tool for discussing the topic.

Since "racism" is such a loaded term for many people, let's look at such limitations through a different complex word. Let's take "anxiety." According to Merriam-Webster, "anxiety" is defined as "apprehensive uneasiness or nervousness, usually over an impending or anticipated ill."

Now imagine thinking that you understand everything that encompasses anxiety from reading that dictionary definition. Imagine thinking you could recognize the signs of anxiety in someone based on that definition alone. Ridiculous, right? The dictionary doesn't explain that some people's anxiety manifests as anger, even though it does. It doesn't say that anxiety sometimes manifests as withdrawal or aloofness. It doesn't say that you often won't see obvious signs of fear or nervousness in someone experiencing anxiety.

The dictionary doesn't offer anything close to the reality of what anxiety is or looks like. It would be silly to say that someone isn't experiencing anxiety because they're not clearly showing signs of nervousness like the dictionary definition implies. Just as the dictionary definition of anxiety is not comprehensive, neither is the dictionary definition of racism. Yet people keep using it to "prove" that something or someone isn't racist.

Fox News analyst Brit Hume just pulled that trick on Twitter to try to back up his claim that Donald Trump's "go back to" statements to four Congresswomen of color weren't technically racist.


The first Merriam-Webster entry for "racism" reads "a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race."

Merriam-Webster

First of all, I'm not sure how this definition actually makes Trump's statements not racist. A belief is not always conscious, so even assuming that his racism is unconscious, a white man telling four women of color to "go back to" their countries of origin—despite three of them being born in the U.S. and the fourth being a naturalized citizen of the U.S.—is pretty objectively racist. No one knows exactly what is going on in the President's head, but such statements only being made to women of color would certainly be consistent with the behavior of someone with a belief in white people's inherent superiority.

But that simple definition isn't truly definitive, either. Shortly after Hume's tweet, Merriam-Webster pointed out a usage note for the word "racism," which clarifies that dictionaries do not provide the be-all-end-all definition of words.

Anti-racism advocates have tried time and time again to explain that racism is not as straightforward as someone saying, "I think I'm superior to people who don't share my skin color." Racism is almost never that blatant, and yet oodles of Americans refuse to call anything less than that kind of bold statement "racism." We have a long history showing exactly how white supremacy—the origin of racism in the U.S.—exerts itself in both strong and subtle ways, and thousands of hours and pages of education from experts describing how racism works on an individual and societal level. But people still insist on the simplistic narrative of "Racism=hating people of a different race."

I've seen many people, including Brit Hume, argue that the word racism has lost all meaning. Frankly, that's a copout. Racism—as both a conscious or unconscious belief of racial superiority and as a system of racial prejudice blended with power dynamics—has a broader meaning than one person hating another person for the color of their skin. But that doesn't make it meaningless.

I've also seen people complain that "everything is racist these days," but no, it's really not. We simply understand more about racism now, thanks to the field of race studies and to people of color offering their time and energy to explain it, so it's easier to identify in its various forms. In my experience, when someone's understanding of racism reaches a certain stage, they start recognizing it in places where ignorance or unconscious bias may have caused them to miss it in the past. That's not imagining racism where it doesn't exist or "calling everything racist these days"; that's simply seeing reality more clearly.

When you really dive deep into the historical, psychological, and sociological reality of racism in America, it becomes painfully obvious that racism is far more prevalent and enmeshed in our society than most people think. Until defensive, mostly-white folks stop automatically denying racism every time the word is used and stop throwing around dictionaries to avoid having to do that deep dive work, we're not going to make real headway on this issue.

Let's stop pretending that the definition and supposed overuse of the word "racism" is the problem, when the problem is racism, period.

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