God hates the University – or at least that’s what Fred Phelps thinks. He even put it on his website, Godhatesfags.com.

Sarah Royce

Our campus will be exposed next week to a bit of anti-gay fanaticism, in the form of Phelps and his followers from Westboro Baptist Church – protesters of all things homosexual. Phelps hails from Topeka, Kans., and he’s visiting the University to protest the Department of Theatre and Drama’s production of “The Laramie Project,” a play about the beating and death of Mathew Shepard, a gay student from the University of Wyoming.

Wherever there is a production of “The Laramie Project” (or anything pro-gay, for that matter) Phelps is never far behind. He does his best to preach the “word of God” and track the production wherever it is performed – showing up with an entourage of devotees and colorful signs that read “God hates fags,” “Thank God for AIDS” and the like. Phelps has picketed against homosexuality more than 22,000 times in his life, including picketing Shepard’s funeral back in 1998. I know “Thou shall not be tactless” isn’t written in the Ten Commandments, but given Phelps’s striking insensitivity, maybe it should be jotted down as commandment eleven.

Perhaps the most unsettling image on Phelps’s already highly disturbing website is a photograph of a two little redhead girls, both of whom can’t be a day over six years old – proudly wearing “God Hates Fags” T-shirts. Phelps may masquerade as a fringe fundamentalist, but he’s certainly clever enough to pass down his hate gene to American’s youth.

We have to show Phelps that he’s not in Kansas anymore.

The Office of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Affairs is on top of it, having already created the coalition Organizing for Unity – an “aesthetic and symbolic” response to Phelps on Saturday, Nov. 19 and Sunday, Nov. 20 in front of the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre. Unless you think God really does hate the University, come and show your support. Fred Phelps and his “God Hates Fags” T-shirts have no place on this campus – and the LGBT community shouldn’t be the only ones voicing their outrage.

However, we should not be so quick to dismiss Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church as laughable fringe extremists. Despite their outrageous demonstration tactics, Phelps and his followers bring to light the larger battle facing the gay community and its allies in the upcoming years.

We are up against people who, like Phelps, believe from their heart of hearts that homosexuality is a sin – who maintain that in being gay, homosexuals have inherently chosen an immoral lifestyle.

While mainstream religious conservatives may use far more politically correct language and prefer to place emphasis on “family values” rather than on the apocalypse of sodomites, the fundamental belief that homosexuality is a sin in the eyes of God is essentially the same. Even though politicians refrain from using words like “fag” and phrases such as “all homosexuals will burn in Hell,” the belief that gays are sinners is widely accepted in conservative religious circles.

We are fighting an uphill battle not on political grounds, but on moral and religious grounds. Many of the movers and shakers in the Republican Party are fundamentalist religious conservatives – and while these activists aren’t picketing the University’s production of “The Laramie Project,” they are working in other ways to discriminate against the gay community.

Influential right-wing organizations such as Concerned Women for American and Focus on the Family crusade daily for a constitutional ban on gay marriage and work tirelessly against the progress of same-sex benefits. These organizations and their allies in the White House are the real threats to homosexuals – not just Phelps with his megaphone and makeshift cardboard signs.

There has never been a better time for liberals to get their act together. It’s pretty difficult to argue with people who legislate from the heavens – but given the series of unfortunate events that have befallen the Republican Party in recent weeks, the left may have a window of opportunity. The line between church and state is constantly blurring, and the only remedy is a crystal-clear message and strong backing for what we know to be right – in this case, protection for all American citizens regardless of sexual orientation.

A strong symbolic stance against Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church is a good start – but long after “The Laramie Project” is over, the battle for gay rights will rage on. So go and join hands with the LGBT next week, but know the real battle promises to be fought not only in front of the Mendelssohn Theatre, but in Congress and the court system during upcoming years.

It may be a losing battle to argue about homosexuality with an army of religious fundamentalists. But if liberals can hone their message and gain some political muscle during this time of Republican instability, maybe they can win some long-overdue rights for homosexuals – at least until the apocalypse comes.

 

Dibo can be reached at wdibo@umich.edu.

 

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