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Westboro Baptist Church plans protest of ‘The Laramie Project’

By | 2008-02-21T09:00:00-05:00 February 21st, 2008|News|

by Shaun Hittle

Westboro Baptist Church, known nationally for their anti-gay platform and controversial protests of U.S. soldiers’ funerals, has announced plans to come to Kalamazoo on Feb. 22 in order to protest Kalamazoo Central High School’s production of the play, The Laramie Project.
The church, based in Topeka, Kansas, is targeting Kalamazoo as part of a continuing campaign against the play that chronicles the aftermath of the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard, a gay University of Wyoming student.
Westboro Baptist Church and their leader, Fred Phelps, were vaulted into the national spotlight when they protested Shepard’s funeral and subsequent trials of the accused. Phelps, who is depicted in the play, and his supporters, held signs reading “Matt in Hell” and “God Hates Fags.”
Kalamazoo Central High’s Theater Director Christopher Barrett said that he chose the play in hopes that it would “encourage dialogue and conversation.”
“It’s a great piece of theater,” said Barrett, who was also drawn to the minimalist nature of the play that focuses on a hate crime.
Shirley Phelps-Roper, a spokesperson for Westboro Church, said that her church targets the Laramie Project because the play “teaches rebellion against God”, “damns the soul”, and “dooms the nation.” Phelps-Roger said of the planned protest’s aims, “We’re here to deliver a message from God…this is a violent, filthy nation…a nation of sissified ninnies.”
Despite the Church’s aims, Barrett said that he sees Westboro’s visit as a sort of opportunity to show people that the Kalamazoo community stands by diversity. “They’re (Westboro) trying to infuse fear in our community…but we are not going to bend,” Barrett said.
The announced protest has spurred the LGBT community in West Michigan into action through the forming of the Stop Hate in Kalamazoo Coalition. The coalition, which is comprised of members from various LGBT advocacy groups in the area including The Triangle Foundation, The Kalamazoo Gay and Lesbian Resource Center, and Project Light, among others, has announced plans for the event.
The coalition released a statement asking members of the community not to participate in a counter demonstration, but rather support the play through other means such as buying tickets for the play or buying virtual tickets for the play with proceeds benefiting Kalamazoo Central High School and local LGBT advocacy groups. The group is also planning a Pro-GSA rally on March 8, though specifics of this event have yet to be announced.

The Laramie Project Showing in Kalamazoo
Where: At Kalamazoo Central High School, 2431 N. Drake Rd., Kalamazoo
When: show times are Feb. 22, 23, 29, and March 1 at 730pm
Pricing: tickets are $7 at the door, or $5 with a student ID (organizers report that seating is extremely limited). Tickets can be purchased online at or by phone at 1-800-838-3006.
Virtual Tickets: If you cannot make it to the play or if it is sold out, you can still help the cause by buying a donation “virtual ticket.” These can be purchased online through the Triangle Foundation at

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Between The Lines has been publishing LGBTQ-related content in Southeast Michigan since the early '90s. This year marks the publication's 27th anniversary.