Students of Shawnee Mission East High School in Prairie Village, Kansas, turned out in force yesterday to counter the protests of the infamous Westboro Baptist church congregation who, in typical fashion, turned up sporting placards with such slogans as “God Hates Fags” and “9/11 Was God’s Punishment” protesting the school’s acceptance of LGBT people.
Shawnee Mission East High School elected an openly gay student as their homecoming king in 2007. This move is believed to be what prompted the protests by the infamous church, headed by Rebekha Phelps-Davis, who had this to say on why the group was protesting:
“Specifically, last year’s homecoming queen was actually a homecoming king that they elected. And they’re proud of it.”
Whilst Fred Phelp’s daughter Shirley Phelps-Roper, in place of her father because he has been too ill to attend recent protests, further emphasized their reasons for the protest when she declared, “Those children elected a prom king, queen, thing.”
The “prom king, queen, thing,” who usually goes by the name of Matthew Pope, drove back from Oklahoma college, where he is currently studying, to be at the counter-protest yesterday, and was rather up-beat about it all, saying:
“I’ve been out since 14 and being really, really active in school, in the community, I’ve definitely been targeted a lot, but I’m just taking it with a grain of salt, and they’re going to think what they’re going to think, do what they want to do, and we’re just going to do our thing and keep our spirits high.”(kctv5.com; 2009-02-05)
The student body protest, as organized by Jake Davidson, a pupil and representative, was a peaceful affair with the Phelps clan confined mainly to the north side of the street and the student body counter-protest to the south with a slew of over a dozen police officers between them.
Shawnee students carried banners with messages of support for the gay community and even held collections for AIDS awareness and treatment charities, ignoring the Westboro Baptists’ derisive chants and vocal taunts.
Shawnee Mission East High is one stop in a very busy start to the year for the Westboro Batpist Church who announced in January that they would be attending many a school across America to voice their anger at the growing acceptance of LGBT people.
During March in particular, The Westboro Church will be picketing extensively in the surrounding area with their prime focus on Cambridge Ringe and Latin High School, but they will also visit Lexington High School and Hanscom Air Force base. This will coincide with Cambridge Ringe performing a play called “The Laramie Project” that was written to commemorate the tragic death of Matthew Shepard, a young man who was murdered in 1998 in Wyoming, and who’s attackers attempted to use the “gay panic-defense” as a way to escape the full charges for their crime.
The Westboro Church picketed Matthew Shepard’s funeral, with unsavory banners that read “Matthew Shepard Will Burn In Hell”, and they regularly travel to protest productions of “The Laramie Project”, but will likely find equal opposition at Cambridge Ringe and Lexington and all their other targets during March, as all the schools have a firmly established straight and gay alliance program.
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