Westboro Baptist Church visited Graceland on Friday, not to partake in the fanfare of Elvis Presley but to protest him, calling Elvis a "hip-gyrating drug-popping" fornicator.
"He was a druggie. He did many things that were evil," says Gabriel Phelps-Roper, 17, with Westboro.
But Elvis fans were quick to counter-protest, telling Westboro to step off his blue suede shoes.
"Elvis was not without his flaws, but like she said, he did a lot of good. He did way more good than he did bad," says Donna Galloway, an Elvis fan from Mississippi.
Galloway and her friend, another Elvis fan from Kentucky, Nicole Burd were on a girls trip to Graceland on Friday when they heard about Westboro protesting Elvis. The two grew up on Elvis' music and felt the need to stick up for him like family.
"He was not a perfect man, but he's like all of us," says Burd, "But he did a lot of good things for everybody like the gospel music, the charities, so you can't judge."
Allan Creasy, an Elvis fan, showed up wearing an Elvis suit he rented for $150, all to counteract Westboro's message, saying "Anything to show the pride I have for this city. And Elvis! Elvis is a symbol of this city."
Elvis Presley Enterprises released a statement, saying in part, "Graceland and Elvis Presley Enterprises, Inc. strongly believe in the value of diversity and condemn the intolerant positions and disruptive behavior of this group, even as we acknowledge their own individual right to freedom of expression."
People were prepared to support the Memphis music legend, but also their own values that Westboro looks down upon.
"It's an intrinsic part of what they're doing and so as a gay man myself, I want to be able to say intrinsic of what I'm doing is a counter to what they're doing," says Michael Shaeffer, "I've always thought of myself as an advocate for the LGBT community, my community, and I can't let them come here and roll over."
Chris Riales helped bring out his friends to stand up to Westboro, saying, "If I want to be a gay man in Memphis, I can be a gay man in Memphis. If Elvis wanted to be who he wanted to be, he can be who he wanted to be. He's not an idol, he's not anything crazy. Religious prosecution is not okay."
Memphis police made sure to keep protestors separated from one another so no one was singing "Jail House Rock" at the end of it all. At the beginning, many anti-Westboro protestors thought the religious group did not show up.
Overall passersby did not take Westboro too seriously, but one thing that isn't a joke to Memphians, "You don't mess with Elvis," says Shaeffer.
WHBQ-TV | Fox 13
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