Westboro Baptist Church came to Maplewood to picket the Maplewood Richmond Heights theater class production of The Laramie Project on Saturday, and a much larger group, supporting the students, gathered outside the school to counter-protest.
The Laramie Project is about the murder of a gay student in 1998. Understanding and tolerance are themes of the play. Westboro Baptist is known for its vehement position against gays and lesbians.
When students and faculty at MRH learned Westboro Baptist was coming to picket, they started to plan a counter-protest.
“Karen Hall (MRH superintendent) and Kevin Grawer (MRH principal) came to me and said we need to do something to balance the hate,” MRH teacher John Capuano said. “We need to do something filled with love and tolerance and support.”
Capuano told the crowd that Hall said there were only two days to organize, and not many would come.
“I looked at her and I said, ‘Karen, this is the one time I will say this to you, you are wrong!’ This is what I’m talking about!” Capuano yelled out to the crowd.
Over 200 came to the counter-rally. Six picketers came from Westboro Baptist Church, and Maplewood police made sure they stayed in their designated area along the north side of Manchester Road, west of Martini Avenue.
The distance of the football field separated the two groups.
Katie Meyers came to the counter-protest with her MRH kindergarten son, Patrick.
“I had to explain the hatred and the venom for him, and coming out here and seeing most of the community supports love, and there are very few haters out there,” she said. “We need to stay here and show that we will overcome.”
Al Fischer, artistic director of the Men’s Gateway Chorus came, and led the group in singing God Bless America.
He said the events on Saturday were a “confluence of art imitating life imitating art.”
“At the peak of the play, the Westboro Baptist Church people are protesting, and the people of Laramie have what they called an angel action and sing to drown them out,” he said, “so it was the perfect thing to come and try to get people to sing today.”
Ten came from Brentwood High School so show support.
“We’re here because we’re GSA (Gay Straight Alliance) and we’re all about loving everybody, so when we heard that a neighbor needed our help, we of course came,” Brentwood student Anisa Rahaman said.
She said a book at the Brentwood Library about same sex marriage, with, so, “It’s been a rough week to be an ally,” she said. “Seeing everybody here reassures me our cause is justified and we’re not alone.”
Holly Potthoff, the play’s director, said she just wanted to do a show.
“I wanted to do a show and use it as a teaching moment, with a show that I was passionate about, and the rest is just sprinkles on the cupcake,” she said. “The whole point is that my drama students and the students in the school are learning from this.”
Also in Patch:
- Westboro Baptist to Picket MRH Play on Homosexuality and Tolerance
- MRH Will Respond to Westboro Baptist Church Picket
- Maplewood Police Chief: Westboro Baptist Church Has Right to Peaceful Protest