Just a few of the folks WBC missed out on meeting Saturday night.
I was expecting a hatefest, a yellathon, maybe even some fisticuffs. Instead, it turned into a love-in.
I'm talking about the threatened picket of Glendale Community College by the gay-bashing Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas. WBC is a notorious hate-cult led by loony pastor and pater familias Fred Phelps, Sr., whose entire theology apparently boils down to the abhorrence of gays and the belief that anything horrible that happens to the United States -- from Hurricane Katrina to the 9/11 attacks -- is because America tolerates homosexuality.
WBC, which is mostly made up of 70 or so members of Phelps' own family, is infamous for picketing the funerals of fallen U.S. soldiers, while preaching that the Iraq war is judgment from the Almighty and carrying signs which read "God Hates Fags," "God Hates America," "Thank God for IEDs" [Improvised Explosive Devices], "Your Pastor Is a Whore," and so on, ad nauseam.
The Phelps family crisscrosses the continent, picketing funerals and other events, such as performances of The Laramie Project, a play by Moises Kaufman depicting the town of Laramie, Wyoming in the wake of the brutal, 1998 slaying there of gay college student Matthew Shepard. Phelps' clan actually picketed Shepard's funeral, with signs proclaiming "Matt Shepard Rots in Hell." And since Shepard's demise, Phelps and his family have railed against the gay icon every chance they've gotten.
Gay Jesus made an appearance. Or was that gay Bacchus? Hmmm...
This Saturday, November 22, WBC members were supposed to be at Glendale Community College to protest the last day of a scheduled run of performances of The Laramie Project. An announcement on WBC's site warned GCC that the haters were a-comin':
"Glendale Community College - Stop lying about MATT! 59th & Vogel Avenue We will visit your little town and tell you, again, that Matthew Sheperd [sic] is in hell. He's been there for 10+ years now, and all of your lies are only causing him more torment. If you would simply read the Bible, and obey the words written there, you would see the simplicity that is that process. However, you want to complicate everything with the multitude of words, and doing that which is NOT CONVENIENT. What is up with that? It is because God Hates You, and You're Going to Hell, to wit: Romans 1:28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; Ephesians 5:4 Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks. So, we'll see you in Glendale! AMEN!"
Our pal Alia with the winning sign of the evening...
Of course, regular readers of Feathered Bastard know that there's nothing I love more than observing extremists, weirdos, and wackjobs hard at work, antagonizing their fellow Earth-dwellers. Also, I'd recently watched Louis Theroux's documentary for the BBC entitled America's Most Hated Family, where he spends three weeks with the Phelps cult, trying to figure out what makes them tick. So I moseyed on over to GCC, curious as heck, fully expecting to see a full-on melee with protesters and counter-protesters, who'd I'd heard would be there to confront the WBC.
I never thought about it before, but I reckon she's right.
WBC's site stated that church members would be present from 6:45 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. I arrived a little before 6:30 p.m. to find that there were at least a thousand, happy-go-lucky counterprotesters on site, but zero WBC members. As time wore on, it became apparent that WBC had punked out. Campus security informed me that they'd had no indication the gay-bashers had shown up as anticipated, though there were rumors that the WBC had arrived in a line of cars, taken one look at the gay-friendly crowd, and kept on riding.
Looks like these two got the memo on color coordination
The result was an impromptu gay-pride rally of sorts, and a sold-out show for the last night of the performance. There were tons of twentysomethings and older folks, carrying placards reading, "Jesus Had Two Daddies," "My Imaginary God Is Nicer Than Yours," and -- the funniest of all -- "God Likes Her Pussy Licked!" Some demonstrators were dressed as angels, or in drag, and there was one fella who did his impersonation of a rotund Jesus with a sign that read, "Open Wide Cus Jesus Is Well Hung."
Just a few of the many college students who attended the event.
The good-natured crowd was led by organizer and activist Annie Loyd, head of a group called Be a H.E.R.O., the acronym standing for "Human and Equal Rights Organizer." Loyd also recently helped organize a massive protest of the passage of Prop 102, Arizona's anti-gay marriage amendment, in downtown Phoenix. She didn't seem the least bit let down that the Westboro haters never appeared.
"We know Fred [Phelps] threatens to show up all the time and he doesn't," she told me as the demonstration was beginning to break up. "This time we mobilized the community. We packed the play. And that probably wouldn't have happened otherwise. We turned all these people out. And this is what we're going to continue to do. You know, we've ignored people like him for so long, we're not going to ignore them any more."
Community activist Annie Loyd addresses demonstrators.
Loyd also believed that the large number of protesters she was able to garner for the event is indicative of a building backlash against Arizona's passage of Prop 102.
"It's Pandora's Box," Loyd insisted. "We've awoken the sleeping giant. We've been patient. We've been waiting for society to catch up. It was one thing to wait. It's another thing to come after us and attack us. We're not going to tolerate it."
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Angel Ricky Araiza didn't get to confront the Westboro demons.
While I appreciated the good vibe of the evening, I must admit to a slight disappointment at not getting to observe the Westboro freak show, and seeing how they would've handled over a thousand pro-gay rights people breathing down their necks. Loyd and her fellow activists had been schooling the crowd in non-violence, but things certainly would have gotten tense if the WBC had shown up. Hey, maybe next time the Phelpses won't punk out. If there is a next time.
Um, Westboro's wicked God, we reckon...
(To read more about Fred Phelps, Sr. and WBC, check out the Southern Poverty Law Center expose, A City Held Hostage. I also highly recommend Louis Theroux's BBC documentary, America's Most Hated Family, which you can watch on YouTube. A link to Part 1 is, here.)