13-Year-Old LGBT Activist Will Phillips Delivers a Must-Hear Speech at Northwest Arkansas Pride Parade

The first time I heard of Will Phillips, he was a 10-year-old who refused to stand up during the Pledge of Allegiance for a novel reason:

Will’s family has a number of gay friends. In recent years, [mother] Laura Phillips said, they’ve been trying to be a straight ally to the gay community, going to the pride parades and standing up for the rights of their gay and lesbian neighbors. They’ve been especially dismayed by the effort to take away the rights of homosexuals — the right to marry, and the right to adopt. Given that, Will immediately saw a problem with the pledge of allegiance.

“I’ve always tried to analyze things because I want to be lawyer,” Will said. “I really don’t feel that there’s currently liberty and justice for all.”

He was 10 and he didn’t support the Pledge because he knew we really didn’t have “liberty and justice for all.” Amazing.

Of course, immediately after that story broke, people offered explanations for why a young man would ever do such a thing. Like Matt Barber of Liberty Counsel:

[Barber] believes the boy has been “utterly manipulated and exploited by adult moral relativists who are indirectly using him and other children as political pawns in the burgeoning culture war that is reaching a boil.”

Barber further finds that “it’s really a testament to the level of success that liberal and secular and homosexual activist propagandists in Hollywood and in our public schools and in much of our elitist establishment organizations have enjoyed.”

Barber’s list didn’t include the way his fellow Christians have treated LGBT people over the years… I guess that one never even crossed his mind.

(Incidentally, his parents have repeatedly denied the charges of “brainwashing” their son, saying that Will’s activism is entirely his own decision.)

The media loved it. Both The Daily Show and The Colbert Report ran segments on Will and CNN’s Kyra Phillips had a message for his bullies:

The following year, Will’s activism continued. He spoke at a rally protesting the National Organization for Marriage’s national anti-gay-rights bus tour:

He led San Antonio’s gay pride parade that year, too.

It’s been a few years since I’ve mentioned him on this site, but I’m thrilled to report that Will is back.

The bow tie-clad 13-year-old spoke at the end of the Northwest Arkansas Pride Parade in Arkansas yesterday. He ignored his broken microphone, and spoke out (loudly) “for LGBT rights, for women’s rights, for workers’ rights, for civil rights, for human rights,” and for so much more:

I love that slightly-modified Pledge of Allegiance, too :)

Not bad for someone who’s not yet in high school.

(Thanks to @MerrieMelodyxx for the link!)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • Amor DeCosmos

    Who was more manipulated and exploited? The child who says “there is an invisible sky daddy who loves you so much that He raped a young virgin who gave birth to Himself so he could kill Himself so you don’t have to suffer as long as you fear Him.” OR the child who says, “all people should be treated equally”. Which one of those ideas came from adult brainwashing and which came from reasoned observation?

    • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke

      but i think you misunderstand the motivation. children, at some point, come to understand that they must ‘grow up’ as we say in this country, and face boring, tedious, serious, financial, and otherwise not-fun reality on a daily basis as functional adults. this is what it means to be grown up.

      take a weak or abused or shy mind. it doesn’t want to deal with harsh reality. better to put on the mask or filter, where everything is “because magic sky being says so!” instantly, one is absolved from all responsibility, critical thought, or the difficult perception that sometimes life isn’t right or fair.

      the cocoon of ignorance is fluffy, warm and soothing. a lot of people skip out on growing up so they can stay in it, and it’s not hard to understand why.

      • C Peterson

        Reality may be serious much of the time, but any child who “grows up” into a reality that is often boring, tedious, or not fun has grown up poorly. None of these things need accompany being an adult in the real world. Reality is not intrinsically harsh.

  • Crazy Russian

    I’m sorry, but Matt Barber is one of the last people to be lecturing others on manipulation. Who cares what he believes.

  • Miss_Beara

    A kid that wants LGBT, women, civil and workers rights and an adult who wants none of those things, and the kid is the one being manipulated? Bravo Will Phillips, you have more compassion and empathy than many adults in this country.

  • Billy Bob

    The only thing I hate about these young activists is the reaction they get from adults who disagree with them. They never seem to attack anything he actually says and go straight for his age as if that makes anything he says invalid.

    • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

      But should a young fundamentalist speak up, that child is “wise beyond hir years” and everyone should listen, for out of the mouths of babes …

      This is not to say that young fundamentalist Christians are brainwashed, btw. Just that if people are going to dismiss what someone says because of age, they should be consistent about it, and people like Mr. Barber are not.

  • indorri

    Matt Barber is confusing rejecting his moral system for moral relativism. Even assuming the boy took his beliefs and activism from his parents, he’s just wrong on that assertion.

    • UWIR

      Yeah, the irony is stunning. Will has the intellectual strength to develop a consistent moral sense independent of a socially constructed “moral” system that disregards fundamental human rights. That is the exact opposite of moral relativism.

  • Rain

    He was 10 and he didn’t support the Pledge because he knew we really didn’t have “liberty and justice for all.”

    Pretty simple concept. ‘Nuff said! Bring on the smoke screens all ye long-winded people that use a million words to try and make a simple thing not so simple, lol.

  • sk3ptik0n

    You have to love it when Christian accuse anyone else of brainwashing their kids.

    Have they no shame?

    • Reginald Selkirk

      Have they no shame?

      No.
      Oh, I’m sorry, was that a rhetorical question?

  • advancedatheist

    Don’t get too excited over this kid. He reminds me of Jonathan Krohn, and a few years from now he might identify himself as a fundamentalist christian.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jonathan_Krohn

    • marilove

      You have no reason to believe at all that Will Phillips will tern into a fundamentalist Christian. Pretty awful of you to compare these two kids when there is no reason for you to. Just because two kids exist and are the same gender and are both young activists does not mean they are going to grow into the same kind of young adult.

      Will Phillips has been going strong for 3+ years now. I think he’s alright. Your baseless concern is, well, baseless and adds *nothing* to the discussion.

      • marilove

        tern? really? so not sure what that’s about.

    • marilove

      Also… In 2011, Krohn openly declared he no longer held conservative views.

      So…

  • Anna

    [Barber] believes the boy has been “utterly manipulated and exploited by adult moral relativists who are indirectly using him and other children as political pawns in the burgeoning culture war that is reaching a boil.”

    Oh, the irony! I can’t believe a fundamentalist Christian could say that with a straight face when all those conservative groups ever do is use children as political pawns.

  • Beth

    As a parent, I know that my beliefs (or dis-belief) will rub off on my kids, we don’t live in a bubble after all.

  • moother

    The arrogance of this kid to stand up for the rights of others!

    Give him a bloody medal!

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    I am impressed beyond expression. I’m completely blown away by this remarkable young man. Such poise, eloquence, humor, optimism and courage. He is an inspiration.

  • pawpawskeptic

    Hemant, I like the pledge he gives too. I am sure you know this already. Although modified, from its current form, the pledge of allegiance didn’t originally have “under God” in it. I would love to see it return to that. I love your website. Let me know when you can make it to southwest Michigan. We are just around the lake.