Despite no show from hate group, more than 100 rally at Waynflete School in Portland

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PORTLAND — More than 100 Waynflete students and community members stood together Saturday evening in support of people who have faced hatred and bigotry because of their sexual orientation or beliefs.

“It was very heartening,” Waynflete Headmaster Mark Segar said about the demonstration.

The private West End school was targeted in February by the Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church, an extremist group that travels the country protesting events it says show support for homosexuality.

The group said it would protest outside the April 10 Waynflete production of “The Laramie Project,” a play about the 1998 murder of gay college student Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wy.

The Westboro Baptist Church often protests outside high school and college productions of the play. But on Saturday, the church changed its plans and instead went to picket in Montcoal, W.Va., where 25 miners were killed last week in a mine explosion. The church, on its Web site, said the deaths happened because the church received threatening e-mail messages from West Virginia.

Segar estimated that 100 or more people showed up for a counter demonstration on the Waynflete campus April 10, prior to the final production of “The Laramie Project.” The event was organized by the school and the Maine Center for the Prevention of Hate Violence.

“There were so many people from both Waynflete and outside our school community,” Segar said.

Students spoke during the event about the importance of creating a safe community, and were joined by Maine civil rights advocates The Rev. Marvin Ellison and Steve Wessler, director of the Center for the Prevention of Hate Violence.

“There is a real recognition of how strong the response was for this threat,” Segar said.

Kate Bucklin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or [email protected]

Sidebar Elements

Dominic Garcia, 6, of Gorham, displays a sign during a rally against homophobia and discrimination at Portland’s Waynflete School on April. 10. Members of the school’s community gathered to counter a protest threatened by the Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church against the school’s production of “The Laramie Project.”