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Hate group targets performance at Portland's Waynflete School

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Hate group targets performance at Portland's Waynflete School

PORTLAND — A Kansas extremist group that openly hates homosexuals, Jews, Catholics and America in general is threatening to picket a local high school theater production.

The Westboro Baptist Church, known for its frequent picketing of funerals for military veterans and gays, posted a news release Feb. 20 on its Web site announcing it would picket the scheduled April 10 production of "The Laramie Project" at Waynflete School in the city's West End.

"The Laramie Project" is a play about community reaction to the murder of a gay college student. In 1998, Matthew Shepard was beaten and left for dead in Laramie, Wy., the victim of an apparent hate crime. The play recounts testimony, police reports and reaction after the murder, including picketing of Shepard's funeral by followers of the Westboro Baptist Church.

The Kansas church group travels all over the country picketing high school and college productions of the play, or at least threatening to do so. Although the church announced the intent to demonstrate at Waynflete, the protest does not appear on a schedule on the church Web site.

"From what we understand, sometimes they do and sometimes they don't show up to demonstrate at performances of the play," Mark Segar, Waynflete's headmaster, said.

The church announcement describes "The Laramie Project" as "fag propaganda" and also says "... God hates fag-infested & fag-enabling Portland, ME."

Segar said the school was alerted by the local Anti-Defamation League that Westboro had targeted the school. He said parents of Waynflete students were notified via a letter and the school is working with city authorities and the center to make sure the campus is safe during the April 8, 9 and 10 productions of the play.

"We hope and expect that the play will go on without disruption," Segar said. This is the first time Waynflete upper school students have performed "The Laramie Project."

Steve Wessler, executive director of the Maine Center for Prevention of Hate Violence, said someone who monitors the activities of such groups notified him of the Waynflete targeting.

"We need to assume that they are going to come," Wessler said. "They are very disturbing and extreme."

Wessler said the center is planning a community event that will coincide with the April 10 performance at Waynflete. More details should be available next week.

"We are working closely with Waynflete to structure a response to make everyone feel safe and respectful," Wessler said.

Westboro Baptist Church was founded in Topeka, Kan., in 1955 by Fred Phelps, and many of its members are his relatives. In addition to hating homosexuals, military personnel, America, Jews and Catholics, the church has also targeted Ireland, Michael Jackson and Swedish-made vacuum cleaners.

Church members claim American soldiers are being killed because the country has abandoned its moral imperatives and embraced homosexuality. Similarly, they have targeted Ireland, Jews, Catholics and Swedes for what they perceive as supporting homosexuals. Members once picketed an appliance store that sold Swedish vacuum cleaners because they believed the store was showing support for Sweden and its prosecution of an anti-gay church leader, according to a news report in a British newspaper.

The group said it picketed Michael Jackson's funeral because the singer was "filthy," "gender confused" and "nationality confused," among other things.

The church is an Independent Baptist church that reportedly spends $250,000 annually on picketing.

Kate Bucklin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or kbucklin@theforecaster.net