The drama spilled out of the Mendelssohn Theatre and into Ann Arbor when pastor Fred Phelps’s congregation arrived Saturday night with the message “God Hates Fags” to protest the University’s production of “The Laramie Project.”

Angela Cesere
Engineering junior Michael Eldersveld speaks against members of the Westboro Baptist Church. (CAITLIN KLEIBOER/Daily)

“The Laramie Project,” a play about the death of Matthew Shephard, a man killed because he was gay, drew protests from about 15 members of the Westboro Baptist Church – an ultra-conservative, independent religious group. Wedged between the Michigan League and North University Avenue, the protesters arrived with signs in hand at approximately 7:15, displaying messages condemning gays. Phelps himself was not present at the protest.

The group often protests performances of “The Laramie Project” and other pro-gay events across the nation because of their religious views regarding homosexuality.

As soon as they arrived, the congregation was met by 350 to 400 Ann Arbor community members ready to counter the anti-gay protest with a protest of love.

The protest began without direct confrontation, but eventually some members against the Westboro Church verbally engaged the religious group, calling it blasphemous and hypocritical.

A major player in this counter-protest was Organizing For Unity, a coalition of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and allied community, and various other student groups. OFU has been planning a counter-protest for the last few weeks.

In preparation for the events, the Michigan Peace Team, a state group of trained volunteers, was called upon to ensure a nonviolent atmosphere for the demonstrations.

But the counterprotesters were made up of more than just the LGBTA community.

Many Christians also voiced disapproval of Phelps, saying his radical ways caused even the most conservative Christians to denounce him.

LSA sophomore Sean Moberg and first-year Pharmacy student Lisa Tremuth were at the protest representing a Christian response to the protest.

They said that the Christian community wished to show the loving side of the Christian faith and not Phelps’s gospel of hate.

“Most Christians do not believe (the gospel of hate).” During the protest, members of the Ann Arbor Christian community congregated on the opposite side of North University Avenue here and demonstrated from across the street.

Some OFU supporters demonstrated their views by turning their backs to Phelps’s congregation, interlocking their arms and joining their voices in song to counteract Phelps’s message.

Lee Chrisman, a first-year Music student, had a heated conversation with a member of Phelps’s group. Chrisman said he was displeased with the way the man was encouraging his child to protest and how he was presenting the Bible. “He was just distorting everything that the Bible stands for,” Chrisman said.

Members of the congregation said they did not believe they misrepresent the Bible, but actually present it truthfully.

“(The congregation) came out to preach truth in what is an orgy of lies,” said Sam Phelps-Roper, Pastor Phelps’ grandson. “God made the judgment, we’re just telling you what it is,” he said, referring to the congregation’s protest.

Even while the protesters attacked gays, OFU organizer and Rackham student Gabe Javier said the event raised awareness about hate and homophobia.

Javier, also commented on the positive effects of having a protest, as opposed to completely ignoring the Phelps’ congregation.

“I’m glad we did a demonstration. I’m glad we could have a community voice. There’s very few times that LGBT people and their allies are truly visible.”

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *