Anti-gay church group to protest college play

Associated Press, Feb. 21, 2003

ELLENSBURG — Members of an anti-homosexual Midwestern church say they plan to picket at Central Washington University to protest the production of a play about the fatal beating of a gay college student.

The Rev. Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., told the Yakima Herald-Republic that he and his group will picket the “gay-infested” Ellensburg campus to show disapproval of “The Laramie Project.”

The play examines a community’s reactions to a hate crime against Matthew Shepard. In October 1998, he was kidnapped, severely beaten, tied to a fence and left to die outside Laramie, Wyo.

Although he has never seen the play, Phelps maintained that the production attempts “to make a filthy lifestyle into a noble one.”

“The Laramie Project” opens a seven-performance run next Thursday, ending March 8.

“The play examines why this happened, how the community felt about the murder and how a small town views people who are considered to be different,” said Brenda Hubbard, producing artistic director of Central’s production.

Hubbard acknowledged that people on and off campus have expressed trepidation about the backlash.

“We don’t want anything to happen to our students, and we don’t want to scare away the audience,” she said.

CWU English professor Terry Martin said she worries that pickets will attempt to draw angry responses from students.

“These people are professional at baiting,” she said.

But she said her own response will be to donate $100 to the Human Rights Campaign, a national lesbian and gay political organization, for every day Phelps and his followers picket in Ellensburg.

“The most important thing for us all to remember is to try not to hate back,” she said.

Before arriving in Ellensburg next week, the Westboro Baptists plan to picket the Woodland Park United Methodist Church in Seattle, because it tolerates homosexual clergy, Phelps said.

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