- In 2012, Aaron Jackson bought a home in Topeka, Kansas, and painted it the colors of the Pride flag.
- The rainbow “Equality House” is located across the street from the anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church.
- Planting Peace, the nonprofit that runs the home, calls it a symbol of “equality for all.”
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When Aaron Jackson found a property for sale across the street from the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas, right away he had the idea to buy the house and paint it the colors of the Pride flag.
The founder of Planting Peace – a global nonprofit whose initiatives include environmental conservation and LGBTQ advocacy campaigns – Jackson wanted to make a statement with his choice of paint colors.
While a number of religious groups are supportive of LGBTQ inclusion and equality, according to the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), the Westboro Baptist Church is not one of them.
The organization is considered to be an extremist and anti-gay religious group, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. And its members believe that homosexuality is a sin, according to the church’s website (which includes a homophobic epithet in its URL).
In October 2012, Planting Peace purchased the home – which cost $81,400 at the time, according to Zillow’s property records – and Jackson moved in with a colleague, he said.
A few months later, in March 2013, they painted the outside of the home rainbow, and the “Equality House” was born.
The house instantly captured media attention.
Jackson told The Topeka-Capital Journal in 2013 that the home wasn’t “us trying to start a war with them or anything of that nature. This is just, they believe one thing and we believe another. We’re opposing their view.”
In a statement provided to the Los Angeles Times at the time, the Westboro Baptist Church referred to Jackson’s house as the “Sodomite Rainbow House.”
When contacted by Insider for comment on this story, the Westboro Baptist Church said in a statement sent via email: “The only equality that you need to worry about is that every human equally deserves to go to hell.”
The statement went on to describe the Equality House as “a monument to glorify sin,” and said those behind the home “mock, rebel against, and show their hatred for the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Today, the house still stands as a symbol of defiance
Jackson said he originally thought Planting Peace would sell the Equality House after a few months. But today, it serves as a headquarters for the organization and an important symbol to many in LGBTQ communities.
The Equality House exists “as a visual reminder of our commitment, as global citizens, to equality for all,” the nonprofit says on its website.
Since March 2013, a steady stream of people have visited the property, according to Jackson. People are invited to walk on the lawn and take photos of the house, he said, though it has traditionally been closed to members of the public.
In a typical year, the house receives around 150 visitors per day, Jackson said, but the daily average has dropped to around 20 to 40 people during the pandemic. Many visitors have shared photos of their visits to Instagram.
Jackson told Insider that the public’s reaction to the house has been, broadly, one of acceptance over the years.
However, Jackson said that Planting Peace has received hate mail for years, and in October 2016 NBC News reported that the house had been vandalized for months. As NBC reported at the time, Jackson and authorities discovered anti-gay graffiti as well as seven bullet holes on the outside of the home.
Jackson told Insider that he had been in the home during the shooting and that the vandals were never caught. He said that a month or two before the incident, someone who identified themselves as a member of the Ku Klux Klan stopped by the house and warned him of possible violence towards LGBTQ people ahead of the presidential election.
The 2016 incident didn’t deter Planting Peace from staying in the house, Jackson said.
At the time, Jackson said church members walked video footage of the incident across the street after he asked if they could share it. And in a separate instance, Jackson said he texted Westboro Baptist Church members to let them know that people were jumping the church’s fence.
While Planting Peace and the Westboro Baptist Church disagree with each other as organizations, Jackson said that members of the respective organizations are often cordial when they bump into each other in the neighborhood.
“We get along just fine from a neighborly standpoint,” he said.
Above all, Jackson said it’s important that the house maintains its status as a symbol of equality.
“Anytime anyone sees a photo of the Westboro Baptist Church forever more, they’ll see a Pride house. That was my main intent,” he said.
Jackson said he hopes that when LGBTQ kids see the house, they “realize that they’re not less than, that they’re equal to all of us, even though messages out there from people like the Westboro Baptist Church preach that they’re somehow less than right.”