The first Angel Action in Laramie Wyoming, and a comic strip about the Westboro Baptist Church.
A brutal murder of one college student has led to a very well-created and extremely protested play. In 1998, Matthew Shepard was brutally murdered for being a homosexual. On the day of the trial of his murderers, an unknown church from Topeka, Kansas made their first extremely public appearance (4). After this appearance, The Westboro Baptist Church stayed on the Matthew Shepard-based scene. When the Tectonic Theatre Project wrote “The Laramie Project,” a play all about Matthew Shepard’s murder and the town of Laramie, the Baptist Church has since all but followed the play around the country and protested gays. However, no matter how much the Westboro Baptist Church protests the play they have been met by counter protests and peaceful resistance, and therefore have not stirred up controversy or brought any of the change they wanted.
The Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) has protested the production of “The Laramie Project” in high schools and colleges all over the country. The church has released such statements on this play as “God Hates Fags! God Hates Fag-Enablers! Ergo, God hates fag-infested & fag- enabling doomed america and all having to do with spreading sodomite lies via The Laramie Project – a tacky piece of cheap, lying, fag propaganda masquerading as legitimate theater” (7). The WBC has protested everywhere from schools is Chicago (8) to Lake Tahoe Community College (6) and Coronado High School in California (10), to Las Vegas Academy in Nevada (1). The church has also issued statements of protesting hundreds of other productions. At the Community College, when they found out that The Westboro Baptist Church was coming, local police advised to not get physical and to call officers to scenes of disturbances where there were not already officers present. They were encouraged to not use the same methods as the Baptist church, and not to counter protest with signs and shouting (6). The crowds at Coronado were told the same thing – to not allow the WBC’s vulgarity and shouts of the school being “gay-enabling,” result in loss of temper (10). The Coronado school did one better and held a solidarity act protest, even after an injunction filed against the WBC kept them away from the school (3). The WBC has been at this for about 15 years and to see that all of these schools, even more than the two examples given, are able to take the protests on the whole with dignity and good planning. This shows that the Westboro Baptist church is not making any progress. Their vulgarity with signs such as “God hates Fags” and all of their different appearances are obviously not making a difference in what the public thinks about homosexuals or other issues. In the case of Coronado, WBC strengthened the beliefs that the school already had.
The WBC also made an appearance in Las Vegas, Nevada, and of course this is a location much more well-known than other places. I am also from Las Vegas and the high school at which there was a protest, was The Las Vegas Academy of International Studies, Performing, and Visual Arts and the high school I attended. Las Vegas Academy is an extremely vocal and liberal school, and the major theatre department there is the most vocal part of the school. They put on “The Laramie Project” in 2004, and of course the WBC heard about it and made their way to Las Vegas. The protest began at 6:30 a.m. and the 10 WBC protestors were outnumbered on the school-side of the street 25-1. The counter protest was held to protect and support the students. Unfortunately, the counter protestors did allow a loss of temper, and some police had to form a division between the two groups. However, the signs held by the counter protestors bore messages such as “God bless our L.V.A. students,” “No-Hate Zone,” “Embrace life, love and diversity, not hate,” and “God loves, people hate.” The principal encouraged a school flag-pole prayer (1). The students were awarded the Youth Activist award by the Gay & Lesbian Community Center of Southern Nevada for “not only putting on the play, but for having all the controversy around it and then still standing up and doing the play regardless” and for holding rallies for gay rights and against gay prejudices, said the executive director of the center (5).
Every instance that I have come across involving the WBC, has ended with counter protests, peaceful actions, and stronger unity on the sides opposing this church. Not in one instance has the WBC swayed any group, or encouraged change in any law. In fact, the leader of the church, Fred Phelps, and one of his children have been banned from entering into the United Kingdom. They attempted to get into the country to protest “The Laramie Project” that was being performed in Hampshire at Queen Mary’s College. The Border Association is opposed to extremism and a spokesperson was quoted as “Both these individuals have engaged in unacceptable behaviour by inciting hatred against a number of communities” (2). Other counteractions have included a fundraiser for charities opposed by the WBC. The donations were given in honor of the WBC with thanks for their presence since it brought the donations (8). Finally, of course the original Angel Action in Laramie, Wyoming in which counter protestors at the trial of the murderers of Matthew Shepard wore humungous angel wings and stood in front of the WBC with their backs turned in order to block the church’s view (9). Very few groups have tries to get physical with the Westboro Baptist Church. If anything, the counter protestors have become more strongly unified when seeing who, and more importantly what, they were fighting.
Fred Phelps and the church he has created are infamous, not famous. The church is mostly made up of his children, grandchildren, and extended family, with very little support from other families (4). Every example found has been an occurrence of meeting this force with peace, unity, and strength. The Westboro Baptist church has not brought any change that is in favor of them. They shout vulgarity and hold up extremely offensive signs as well as disrespect American flags. These are not the types of shocking actions that inspire people or make people think about what they are doing is right, because the Westboro Baptist Church’s messages are hate messages. They have stirred up a lot of controversial feelings surrounding “The Laramie Project” and other issues, but they will never benefit or receive support from it.
- “Anti-gay Group outnumbered.” LasVegasSun.com. Las Vegas Sun, 12 May 2004. Web. 20 Sept. 2013. <http://www.lasvegassun.com/news/2004/may/12/anti-gay-group-outnumbered/>.
- “Anti-gay Preachers Banned from UK.” BBC News. BBC, 19 Feb. 2009. Web. 27 Sept. 2013. <http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/7898972.stm>.
- Axelson, David. “Rally Held To Support Coronado Production Of ‘The Laramie Project'” – Coronadonewsca.com: News. The Eagle Weekender, 20 Jan. 2011. Web. 27 Sept. 2013. <http://www.coronadonewsca.com/news/article_28747bf3-dd56-5556-954c- 9677dd1bd9ba.html?mode=story>.
- Duke Theatre Studies. “The Laramie Project.” » Angel Action in Tuscon. Duke WordPress Sites, 2011. Web. 25 Sept. 2013. http://sites.duke.edu/dukeinlaramie/2011/01/17/angel-action-in-tuscon/.
- “Las Vegas Academy Theater Cast to Receive Youth Activist award.” LasVegasSun.com. Las Vegas Sun, 13 Aug. 2004. Web. 20 Sept. 2013. <http://www.lasvegassun.com/news/2004/aug/13/las- vegas-academy-theater-cast-to-receive-youth-ac/>.
- Pep, Steve. “WESTBORO BAPTIST CHURCH TO PICKET ‘THE LARAMIE PROJECT.” AGAIN.” Towleroad: A Site With Homosexual Tendencies. 6 Mar. 2010. 27 Sept. 2013 <http://www.towleroad.com/2010/03/westboro-baptist-church-to-picket-the-laramie-project- again.html>.
- Van Denburg, Hart. “Westboro Baptist Church Skips “Laramie Project” Protest in Hastings.”The Blotter. Citypages, 14 Feb. 2011. Web. 27 Sept. 2013. http://blogs.citypages.com/blotter/2011/02/westboro_baptist_church_laramie_project_hasting s.php.
- Video Catalyst Proj. “Epic Win! Jason Beats Westboro Baptist Church with a Fund-Raiser at Their Protest!” YouTube. YouTube, 08 Mar. 2010. Web. 20 Sept. 2013. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j7Of_2ykZpQ>.
- “Welcome to the World of Romaine Patterson!” Welcome to the World of Romaine Patterson! McCool Design, n.d. Web. 26 Sept. 2013. <http://eatromaine.com/1/laramie-angels.html>.
- Williams, Ken. “Gay-hating Westboro Baptist Church to Protest “The Laramie Project” in Coronado on Saturday.” San Diego Gay and Lesbian News. GLBT Marketing Group, 13 Jan. 2011. Web. 26 Sept. 2013. <http://sdgln.com/news/2011/01/13/video-gay-hating-westboro-baptist-church- protest-laramie-project-coronado-saturday>