Town prepares for Westboro Baptist Church protest

Meghan B. Kelly

The techniques of Mahatma Gandhi will be alive and well next Friday when a group known for its divisive views of gays and lesbians comes to town.

The Westboro Baptist Church from Topeka, Kan. will stage a protest at the end of school at Lexington High School on Friday, March 13, to combat what they see as an immoral acceptance of gays and lesbians in the community.

In response, some Lexington residents are coming together to reaffirm what they call “mutual values of inclusion and community.”

“Our purpose is to bring love to a space where others are bringing hate,” said Laura Tully, who is leading the community response.

Tully said the plans are to create a “Shield of Loving Kindness,” where participants will form a human shield between the members of the Westboro Baptist Church and the students getting out of school.

Anyone interested in joining the human shield and counter-protest must sign up for training, said Tully.

“You need to be trained to be in their presence to respond in a loving and disciplined way,” she said.

Two sessions have been planned: Saturday, March 7 from 1 to 3 p.m. at Pilgrim Congregational Church, 55 Coolidge Ave., and Tuesday, March 10 from 7 to 9 p.m. at Temple Emunah, 9 Piper Road. To sign up, visit tinyurl.com/nonviolencetraining09.

The group hopes this action will have a big impact on the people who are the targets, to show that the community stands by them, said Tully.

The Westboro Baptist Church is notorious for its frequent protests of military funerals, and will be in Massachusetts to protest the showing of “The Laramie Project” in Reading at the high school. Church member and spokesman Shirley Phelps-Roper has said the group was familiar with Lexington after protesting high school graduation in 2005, and decided to make a stop there while protesting in Reading.

“We’re trying to go as far and fast as we can, because the time is short,” she said.

In addition to protesting at Lexington High School in the afternoon and Reading High School in the evening, the church also plans to protest Cambridge Rindge and Latin School in the morning, as well as Hanscom Air Base.

The three schools in Cambridge, Lexington and Reading all have gay/straight student alliances, which are popular targets with the church.

Lexington police will also be at the high school when the church comes to maintain order and ensure that all who attend the protest are able to exercise their right of free speech without being assaulted, said Lt. Joseph O’Leary of the Lexington Police Department. To counter the protests in Massachusetts, Driving Equality is hosting a “Phelps-A-Thon,” where anyone can pledge money for each minute the Westboro Baptist Church protests. Pledges can be made at www.phelps-a-thon.com/lexington.html.

Contact Lexington Minuteman reporter Meghan B. Kelly at mkelly@cnc.com.