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Phelps crew avoids Toronto protest

Love-in to support SummerWorks production

Credit: Matt Mills photo

A press release quietly slipped out of, Aug 1 that hit too close to home.

The site, run by notorious homophobe Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church (WBC), is ground zero for hateful fundamentalist propaganda and protest announcements against things like productions of the Laramie Project, funerals of AIDS victims, Matthew Shepard and Heath Ledger and now the Toronto premiere of Alistair Newton’s Summerworks play, The Pastor Phelps Project.

The play, a satirical cabaret, uses Fred Phelps’s own words as a jumping point to parody religious intolerance, hypocrisy and extremism in North America and it caught the WBC’s attention, it’s believed, through a theatre preview article in Xtra.

Various media outlets swarmed around the story and the word began to spread virally in the gay community: Phelps was sending a small group of his minions to Toronto to picket the show and a counter-protest began to take shape.

By 7pm on Aug 7, most of the more than 150 pro-queer activists arrived at the Cameron House on Queen St ready to lend their support and solidarity to the handful of artists and audience members tucked inside the small art house venue. They carried signs with slogans that ran the gamut — “God is Love,” hilarious “Fred Phelps Needs to Get Laid” and “My Canada Includes Sodomy.” Protesters from all age brackets (including one baby’s very first protest) seemed in good spirits, eager to join together and drown out any unwelcome hatred.

Despite reports of physical threats being phoned into the venue against the Phelps picketers the crowd seemed dead set on expressing its message of tolerance peacefully.

By 8:30pm it was clear the WBC crew wasn’t going to show but the pervasive attitude in the crowd was that if WBC members were to threaten to protest here again attendees would be there again in a heartbeat.

According to the National Post, the Westboro members were stopped at the border and sent back but a satisfying feeling of victory was still felt.

Newton’s show received great exposure, it sold out opening night and the media attention gave Newton an amazing opportunity to discuss the issues of homophobia and freedom of speech that underline his play.

To anyone who bemoans that the gay community has become apathetic in the wake of the gay marriage ruling, there was a street full of love assembled at short notice that proves otherwise.