It was a love fest Sunday morning at the corner of S.W. 10th and Gage.
The Million Fag March, started by Chris Love, of Leavenworth, drew more than 400 demonstrators with signs, shirts, even pants touting messages of compassion and tolerance.
Homosexual, heterosexual and transgender pickets lined the corner of Gage Park. They hugged, danced and cheered as passersby honked their support.
“It’s about time we did something like this again,” said Hope Prescott, of Topeka, who waved a rainbow banner. “We feel somewhat responsible for the Phelps and Westboro Baptist Church. It’s about time we show our support for gays rights and all rights.”
Love said the idea for the march came after Westboro members picketed actor Heath Ledger’s stateside memorial service, but the theme for Sunday’s event encompassed more than funeral picketing.
“It’s not just about the Heath Ledger thing,” Love said. “We’re against everything that church does. The theory has been to ignore them, and they’ll go away. It’s been 20 years, and they’re still here. Now we are too.”
Picketers began lining up as early as 10 a.m., making signs on the side of the road. By 11 a.m. the crowd had overtaken the southeast corner of Gage Park waiting for the march to begin.
“I think it’s good that all these people are here to march,” said Ashley Lankard, a 12-year-old Landon Middle School student, who came with friends and family. “The Phelps always come to my school to picket. If they can say whatever they want, then we should be able to say what we want, too.”
With a magic marker, Lankard wrote her chosen words — “God loves everybody” — on a neon poster. At noon, she held it above her head as the crowd began to march.
Traffic slowed to watch the parade travel north on S.W. Gage then circle back through Gage Park. The Topeka police mobile command unit and several officers were on scene to ensure the event remained peaceful.
Love wasn’t worried about violence.
“I invited Westboro to come out and join us, but they didn’t come,” he said. “I don’t think what we’re doing is going to change them. It’s just time to show people that not everyone in Kansas is like the Phelps’.”
Taylor Atkins can be reached at (785) 295-1187 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Original titel: Marching against Phelps: Group gathers to protest church’s controversial messages
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