We are finally getting news stories, blog reports, and video out of Kansas regarding the Million Fag March that was held yesterday at Gage Park in Topeka, Kansas as a "queer benefit" for Rev. Fred Phelps and his melancholy crew of followers and family members.
Here are some of the articles just now hitting the news services and wires:
Marching against Phelps
Group gathers to protest church's controversial messages
By Taylor Atkins
Monday, March 31, 2008
It was a love fest Sunday morning at the corner of S.W. 10th and Gage. The Million Fag March, started by Chris Love, of Leavenworth, drew more than 400 demonstrators with signs, shirts, even pants touting messages of compassion and tolerance. Homosexual, heterosexual and transgender pickets lined the corner of Gage Park. They hugged, danced and cheered as passersby honked their support.
"It's about time we did something like this again," said Hope Prescott, of Topeka, who waved a rainbow banner. "We feel somewhat responsible for the Phelps and Westboro Baptist Church. It's about time we show our support for gays rights and all rights."
Love said the idea for the march came after Westboro members picketed actor Heath Ledger's stateside memorial service, but the theme for Sunday's event encompassed more than funeral picketing. "It's not just about the Heath Ledger thing," Love said. "We're against everything that church does. The theory has been to ignore them, and they'll go away. It's been 20 years, and they're still here. Now we are too."
Picketers began lining up as early as 10 a.m., making signs on the side of the road. By 11 a.m. the crowd had overtaken the southeast corner of Gage Park waiting for the march to begin.
"I think it's good that all these people are here to march," said Ashley Lankard, a 12-year-old Landon Middle School student, who came with friends and family. "The Phelps always come to my school to picket. If they can say whatever they want, then we should be able to say what we want, too." With a magic marker, Lankard wrote her chosen words — "God loves everybody" — on a neon poster. At noon, she held it above her head as the crowd began to march.
Traffic slowed to watch the parade travel north on S.W. Gage then circle back through Gage Park. The Topeka police mobile command unit and several officers were on scene to ensure the event remained peaceful. Love wasn't worried about violence.
"I invited Westboro to come out and join us, but they didn't come," he said. "I don't think what we're doing is going to change them. It's just time to show people that not everyone in Kansas is like the Phelps'."
Hundreds protest peacefully against Westboro Baptist Church
Story by Marshanna Hester
KTKA ABC Channel 49
7:06 p.m. Sunday, March 30, 2008
They came with signs of love, respect and tolerance in all different races, sexual orientations and age groups, to show members of the Westboro Baptist Church that they too have first amendment rights.[EDITOR'S NOTE:] As more stories come in we will link to them below. THERE WILL BE A SEPARATE POST IF EITHER REV. PHELPS (OR OTHERS) PUTS OUT A RESPONSE OR IF CHRIS LOVE SENDS OUT A LETTER REGARDING THIS EVENT. Per the response to our previous post, feel free to comment below.
“Standing up is the right thing to do,” said JD Stottlemire, march participant. “I think it's exciting it's the million fag march today, not because it has anything to do with homosexuality but because it dis-empowers the Phelps.”
“I think it’s cool and awesome,” said Elliot Nold, march participant.
Chris Love is the organizer of the march, but you didn't have to be homosexual to participate. So what's behind the name? Love said it has to do with the church's use of the word. “Generally it seems to be the case with them that anybody who's not apart of their church gets called a fag, so in that situation everybody here is a fag,” Love said.
Nold, 12, stood among the hundreds holding her sign "Love It or Leave it." She said she's grown up seeing the church's message. “[It] makes me feel sad because they think that that's the truth but it's not because God loves everybody no matter how they act,” she said.
The Phelps have been around for 17 years and have done more than 34,000 pickets. They were invited to the march to express their views but didn't show up. “They said that they didn't feel they could be kept safe,” Love said. With police protection on the ground and in the air participants peacefully walked the streets of Topeka.
And though the demonstrators know they won't change the minds of the Westboro members, Love had this to say. “You can at least have your voice heard,” he said. Topeka police say there were no problems with the march.
Because of the large turnout, organizers are planning to make the protest an annual event.