Reverend Fred Phelps’s anticipated appearance on campus this weekend is rightly causing outrage among student groups on both ends of the political spectrum. It is not every day that such a figure, spreading a message of hatred and intolerance under the guise of Christianity, makes his way to the University. Phelps and members of the Westboro Baptist Church are coming this Saturday to protest outside the School of Music’s production of “The Laramie Project” this Saturday. Knowing Phelps’s demonstration will condemn lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people as hated by God, the entire campus should use this weekend’s opportunity to show its support for LGBT rights by attending the production and by showing solidarity with the LGBT community. Students must mobilize in order to fully stifle Phelps’s voice and show his congregation that its ideas are warped, and unwelcome on our campus.
Phelps and his congregation have a history of aggressively demonstrating at LGBT events and will be on campus this Saturday protesting “The Laramie Project,” which re-enacts accounts of Matthew Shepard’s murder. Two college-aged men beat Shepard to death in 1998, and his case became one of the first hate crimes committed against gays to be nationally publicized. The Westboro Baptist Church has a tally of the number of days that Shepard has been in hell on its website, www.godhatesfags.com, and members of its congregation were present outside Shepard’s funeral to voice their condemnation and to further express the damnation of all LGBT individuals. The congregation is notorious for its hate-filled protesting tactics, which include using obscene language and exploiting young children.
Phelps’s followers first came to the University in 2001 to protest an LGBT kiss-in on the Diag. Knowing that the nature of their appearance this weekend will be similar to the one four years ago, groups across campus are developing responses to the demonstration. The group Organizing for Unity, which includes representatives from the Michigan Student Assembly and the Department of Public Safety, is planning a counter protest. OFU has also organized a fundraising campaign in which individuals can pledge money for every minute the congregation protests. Other student groups are rallying similar support, even campus conservative groups like Young Americans for Freedom. Most protests and rallies will culminate outside the Mendelssohn Theatre before Saturday’s performance. If all student groups mobilize against the Westboro congregation, they will create one strong voice and be more effective in showing solidarity with the LGBT community.
This support is necessary to show disapproval of Phelps’s offensive demonstrations and sickening ideas. But even more importantly, such support and unity of campus groups cannot end when he leaves campus. Because Phelps’s views are so far from the mainstream, his presence makes it easy to motivate student groups to assemble and defend LGBT rights. But it should not take the presence of such a nutty minister to build strong LGBT support. Fighting for gay rights should always be a nonpartisan issue and cannot stop until LGBT individuals obtain full rights and protection under the law. With the entire University fighting the intolerance presented by groups such as the Westboro congregation, students can show they are willing to stand behind the LGBT community, no matter how much God hates them for it.