Members of the antigay US preacher Fred Phelps’ Westboro Baptist Church are threatening to visit Vancouver Nov 28 to picket a performance of The Laramie Project.
Moises Kaufman’s play is based on more than 200 interviews with Laramie residents following the brutal killing of gay student Matthew Shepard. It captures the emotions and reactions of the people closest to the crime.
On Oct 7, 1998, Shepard, 21, met two men in a Laramie, Wyoming bar. The men pretended that they were gay, and offered Shepard a ride home.
Instead, Russell Arthur Henderson and Aaron James McKinney drove him to a ranch outside of Laramie, pistol whipped him, tied him to a fence pole, and left him.
Eighteen hours later, a cyclist came by, and after the horrific realization that Shepard was not a scarecrow, he called police.
Shepard died in a Colorado hospital of severe head injuries five days later.
The murder brought international attention to the issue of hate crimes.
Kaufman’s play is part of raising that awareness.
Staged by Fighting Chance Productions, the play runs Nov 26 to Dec 6 at the Havana Theatre on Commercial Dr.
Spokesperson Sabrina Mehra Furminger says the company was shocked when they heard of the protest.
“Our initial inclination was to ignore it and refuse to draw attention to their hatred,” she says.
However, after a meeting of cast and crew, it was decided that a counter-protest would be create more dialogue around the issue.
“We were just shocked at their audacity and the fact they’re going to cross international borders to bring hatred to Canada,” Mehra Furminger says.
It remains to be seen what will happen when church members attempt to enter Canada, says Shakila Manzoor, the local communications manager for Canada Border Services.
Manzoor says cases are dealt with on a case-by-case basis depending on what information is presented to border guards.
“Officers determine if a person is here to incite hatred,” she says, “and if they’re here for that, they can be turned back.”
Members of Phelps’ Topeka, Kansas-based church picketed Shepard’s funeral in front of his grief-stricken parents.
It was the first of many such pickets.
In the decade since Shepard’s murder, Phelps and his followers have also picketed numerous funerals for US soldiers killed overseas.
Phelps claims the deaths are God’s revenge for the United States’ embrace of gay rights and abortion. He has made similar claims about Canada.
“When Canada determined to fight against God, they took up a satanic mission which must be addressed,” Westboro Baptist’s website,
— With files from Sondi Bruner