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Former CNN Hero buys house opposite a vehemently anti-gay church in Topeka, Kansas


Everyone knows it’s location, location, location when it comes to real estate. Perhaps no one knows this better than activist Aaron Jackson.

He didn’t even care what the house looked like. He looked up properties on Google Earth and saw a for sale sign across the street from the Westboro Baptist Church, the controversial group in Topeka, Kansas, that’s most notorious for its angry anti-gay protests at military funerals.

The house Jackson initially wanted was sold by the time he got around to buying, but luckily for him, there was another one, on the corner of 12th and SW Orleans streets that was perfect. He paid about $83,000–a bargain, he’d say, for what he was trying to accomplish. This week, he and others from his nonprofit Planting Peace painted the house in rainbow colors that represent gay pride.

Jackson isn’t gay, but he’s big on equality and compassion. In 2007, the public voted him a CNN Hero for his charity work in Haiti. Now, his goal is to combat what he calls messages of hate that come from the followers of Westboro Baptist.

“Our goal is just to promote equality,” Jackson said Wednesday.

He said he’ll use “Equality House” to raise money for an anti-bullying campaign. By Wednesday afternoon, Planting Peace had raised almost $22,000.

So what does the vehemently anti-gay Westboro Baptist have to say about a view that now includes a house painted in gay pride colors?

“We thank God for the sodomite rainbow house,” said a statement sent to CNN. “It is right across the street from the only church that loves people enough to tell them the Bible truth about the filthy, soul-damning, nation destroying sin of sodomy … . The sodomite rainbow house helps shine a bright spotlight on this!”

Followers of the Westboro church, led by pastor Fred Phelps, believe God is punishing the United States for “the sin of homosexuality” in various ways, including military deaths. They have held up signs that say things such as “Thank God for dead soldiers.”

A fallen Marine’s family sued Westboro for picketing at the funeral, alleging invasion of privacy. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the church’s right to free speech.

Jackson said Phelps’ daughter Shirley Phelps-Roper came over to check out the rainbow house and took a few photographs.

“We asked if she liked our house,” Jackson said. “She said she loved the colors.”

Moni Basu | CNN