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God Hates Fags Klan invades Meade, KS


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Different colors of the rainbow

Both sides of the gays rights debate faced off near the Meade hotel Sunday where a rainbow flag has caused a stir

By Tim Vandenack

The Hutchinson News

MEADE - This quiet town turned into an unlikely flashpoint in the gay rights movement Sunday, with picketers from the anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church facing off against a contingent of rainbow-flag wearing gay rights activists and their backers.

The events - which stem from the controversy caused by a local hotel operator's decision to fly a rainbow flag outside his business - unfolded without incident. But they made for an atypical display in this small farming community of 1,600, best known as the hideout back in the late 1880s for the notorious Dalton brothers gang of bank robbers.

"It's not your everyday occurrence," said Cliff Alley, a local who watched the protesting unfold amid a contingent of Kansas State Troopers called in to help maintain order. He termed the hoopla "kind of ridiculous," but withheld further judgment.

"Everybody's got their own opinion," Alley said. "It's sure not up to me to tell anybody how to live."

On the front lines, meanwhile, the two sides weren't shy about voicing their thoughts.

Nearly 30 picketers from the Topeka-based Westboro church, which says the United States is unraveling because of acceptance of homosexuality, stood on the south side of U.S. 54 at Fowler Street in Meade's city center. The gay rights supporters, about 50 of them from all over Kansas, faced their critics from the north side of the highway.

"God loves fags, God loves all," the gay rights supporters chanted.

"Today God has cursed this nation," answered Shirley Phelps Roper, daughter of the Rev. Fred Phelps, the Westboro leader.

The Westboro church, which earlier Sunday had picketed five Meade churches, zeroed in on Meade because of the controversy swirling around the rainbow flag flying outside the Lakeway Hotel here. Proprietors J.R. and Robin Knight received a rainbow flag early last month from their 12-year-old son and they put it up on a pole that fronts the business to remember the boy, now living in California.

However, some didn't like such a symbol in their midst - the rainbow banner represents gay pride, among other things - and two local boys clandestinely cut that original down, later confessing to the deed. Then, someone tossed a brick with the word "fag" scrawled on it through a plate glass window at the hotel, adding to the controversy.

Despite such reaction, Jonathan Phelps, another Westboro member who picketed outside St. John's Lutheran Church here, said Meade, including its churches, is just like any other small town in terms of tolerating homosexuality. But with the flag flap, he said, the city becomes "a forum" to tout the Westboro message, delivered mainly of late by church members at funerals of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq.

Meade is "a typical American farming community, (it) hates God, (it) hates his word," Jonathan Phelps said. As he spoke, he flipped through the brightly colored, strongly worded signs denouncing homosexuality that are a Westboro trademark - "AIDs is God's curse," read one - and stood on a U.S. flag.

Churchgoers declined comment as they made their way into Sunday services, but other locals said they weren't happy to see the Westboro contingent, or the gay rights activists, for that matter.

"I just want to put a stop to it because Meade is a nice, quiet town," said Matt Hensley, a 10th-grader who held a sign reading "Go home" opposite the contingent of Westboro and gay rights protestors.

The gay rights activists and their supporters, meanwhile, remained insistent that the controversy boils down to their right to live free from discrimination. The regular monthly meeting at the Lakeway of the Kansas Equality Coalition, a gay rights group, was the ostensible reason for the activists' presence, though some protestors said they wanted to face off against the Westboro group.

"We're basically trying to stand up for the right to coexist with others without having a brick thrown through the window," said Dennis Russell, a Wichita State University student sporting a rainbow flag over his shoulders and a rainbow wig on his head.

Sherry Coles of Coldwater, a coalition member whose son died of AIDs, called the Westboro showing "a good opportunity to let people see hate masquerading as religion." She said the Topeka church represents "pure evil" and, in touting the rights of gay people, said "all men are created equal," alluding back to the U.S. Declaration of Independence.

For its part, the Lakeway, adjacent to the protest site, took on a bustling, festive air. Tunes like Macho Man by the Village People and Ballroom Blitz from the Rocky Horror Picture Show movie soundtrack blared from the hotel as the activity unfolded.


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