Hate Crimes Hit Home

Today I learned what it feels like to have a hate crime hit home – literally. The Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas, a group unaffiliated with the Baptist Church and recognized as a hate group, has broadcast plans to stage a protest of the Canton High School Drama Club’s production of The Laramie Project in Canton, Massachusetts. The Laramie Project is the true story of Matthew Shepard, an openly gay student who was murdered in Laramie, Wyoming because of his sexuality. An excerpt from the Westboro Baptist Church’s message to Canton High School reads, “We have a message from your Maker, High school students [that] we’re here to deliver. God has cursed you, with your parents’ lies. Now God is rejecting your filthy raging lies Violent brats, God hates you. These plain words, we’re here to tell Fornication makes God angry, Simple sluts will go to hell. Just ask Matthew Shepard if he thinks God is a weak, simpering lover of all mankind. Nope! Matt wants you to shut the hell up about him and how mistreated he was. Every time you mention his name and lie about him, the True and Living God and prop him up as a face of mistreated perverts everywhere — Matt gets more pain and suffering” [punctuation added].

More to the point (and legible), the group’s press release states, “WBC to picket fag-infested Canton High School… Yes. WBC will picket in religious protest and warning; to wit: ‘Be not deceived; God is not mocked.’ Gal. 6:7. God Hates Fags! & Fag Enablers. Ergo, God hates Canton High School, her faculty, administrators, and student body, and all those believing it’s OK to be gay. ‘Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind; it is abomination.’ Lev. 18:22. Fags are beasts.”

I am from Canton. I went to Canton High School. I was in the drama club all four years. Undoubtedly, if I were two years younger, I would be involved with The Laramie Project. I still know juniors and seniors at the high school and in the drama club. In fact, as I think about this protest, one particular face comes to mind: a gay friend in the drama club, now a senior at CHS. I haven’t had much communication with CHS students below my own grade, and he didn’t come out until after I left for college, but I wasn’t surprised. I certainly wasn’t disgusted. He’s still the same hysterical kid who would make me laugh by saying wildly inappropriate things in study hall.

The Westboro Baptist Church isn’t aiming their hate at him in particular, just at the general message of acceptance that performing The Laramie Project conveys. They didn’t know Matthew Shepard and they don’t know my friend. They have demonized all homosexuals as something less than human and evil. And yet I wonder how many “faggots” they know – really honestly know. This is in every way a cry of ignorance. The Westboro Baptist Church’s website (godhatesfags.com) proudly displays pictures of children holding signs that say things like, “Death Penalty For Fags.” I can only imagine that the adults have had this culture of hate inculcated into them in the same way these children are now: their parents passed on these messages, ingraining in their minds this warped view of right and wrong and never questioning its validity.

Yes, you can find things in the Bible that are anti-homosexuality. However, there are also some pretty strong anti-shellfish messages in there. Where are the protests against shellfish eaters? For every edict in the Bible condemning homosexuality, there is a contradictory statement somewhere else in this same text. God didn’t actually write the Bible. Many different men, with different ideals and motives, over a long period of time, wrote the Bible. If that is the final authority, then I’m all for anarchy.

I’m having a hard time grappling with the fact that this display of hate is going to happen in my town. As a straight person, I’ve always cared about homophobia and the hateful things that can go with it, but it has never affected me so personally. The Westboro Baptist Church cares enough about a play being performed in my high school to travel there all the way from Kansas to Massachusetts. One source said the group would be protesting in response to Canton’s strong support for LBGT students, but CHS is hardly a safe haven. As with probably any high school, homosexual students are treated cruelly and sometimes ostracized — unless things have changed drastically in the past two years. We’re probably not much better or worse than any other school in the United States.

The Westboro Baptist Church has fewer than 100 members, but it only takes one person to commit a hate crime. I can only hope that, as CHS alumni discuss this issue, as word makes it way around the school itself, as parents hear the news over dinner, as I write this commentary to you, that the message of this group is heard, and loudly. I hope everyone notices, and can see how loudly their protests speak: that members of groups like the Westboro Baptist Church are the ones who becomes demons through their actions. I hope, through the effectiveness of groups like the Westboro Baptist Church, the rest of us can all move closer to becoming a unified force against hate and ignorance.