New Haven Register, Apr. 15, 2003
William Kaempffer, Register Staff
NEW HAVEN — As strident anti-gay protesters picketed across the street, a group of Yale University students trumpeted their own whimsical cause of the day — dental hygiene.
“God Hates Plaque” read one protest sign hoisted Monday morning at Elm and College streets, a slight variation from the “God Hates Fags” sign across the street being bandied by the Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church.
“We heard that they were from the Midwest, an area known for poor oral hygiene,” said Will Tauxe, a Yale sophomore, who helped organize the tongue-in-cheek counter-protest. “It was our calling — dental evangelism.”
The 30-minute picket by the church went off without a hitch. A handful of city police officers stood posts nearby but there were no confrontations to mediate.
Some Yale students filmed the protesters up close on a hand-held video camera. Two groups of counter-protesters set up shop on opposite corners of the intersection. Project Orange, a community-wide, gay-rights organization, held vigil at the southwest corner and the dental contingency on the northeast.
The church’s patriarch, Pastor Fred Phelps, didn’t attend, but a handful of members of the small congregation pulled out protest signs and sang anti-gay songs.
At one point, one of the protesters delivered a dramatic faux sneeze and then theatrically blew her nose in a rainbow flag, a symbol of gay pride.
“We’ve been on every major campus in the United States,” said Margie Phelps, one of the pastor’s daughters. “No reason Yale should be exempt.”
One of their signs read “Thank God for Sept. 11″ and another asserted that the space shuttle explosion was a matter of divine intervention.
Margie Phelps called the two disasters “fair warning from God” that “this nation institutionalizes sin at every level.”
Shirley Phelps-Roper, another daughter, stood next to her 7-year-old son in the picket. The boy looked shy and cast his eyes downward when a reporter asked him a question.
At one point, the mother asked him if he knew why they were there and he murmured a response.
“He said, ‘Because God hates fags,’ ” Phelps-Roper answered.
The church conducts hundreds of protests a year across the country, preaching the evils of homosexuality and promising fiery damnation. The group is perhaps best known for protesting the funeral of Matthew Shepard, who was murdered because he was gay.
The congregation asserts that they are simply preaching the word of God and giving ample notice to sinners that the Day of Judgment will come.
Yale University had sent out e-mails to students alerting them to the planned protest and urging them to avoid confrontation.
But Tauxe said he and his friends couldn’t resist and created the Christian Yale Dental Network to tweak the visiting congregation.