High-school play about hate crime draws more than 500 to counter-protest, but the Westboro Baptist Church doesn’t show up.
California Legionnaires and American Legion Riders helped lead a would-be counter-protest at San Jose’s Gunderson High School last Friday after word spread that the Westboro Baptist Church would picket the school’s performance of “The Laramie Project.” The play is centered on the 1998 hate-crime murder of a gay college student, Matthew Shepard, in Wyoming. The church has made that particular play, and the funerals of fallen U.S. military personnel, targets for their demonstrations.
On March 2, the U.S. Supreme Court delivered an 8-1 ruling in favor of the church’s right to conduct anti-gay demonstrations at military funerals. The American Legion, which raised money through its Burn Pit blog site to cover legal fees for the father of a fallen Marine whose funeral was picketed by the church, also filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the father and against the church’s disruptions of private ceremonies.
In what was thought to be the church’s first demonstration following the Supreme Court decision, the March 4 high-school play drew more than 500 counter-protesters, including Legionnaires and Legion Riders from the area. The Legion Riders were mobilized and led by District 13 American Legion Riders President Bill “Bunker” Roller. Each motorcycle was also displaying a U.S. flag.
“The Riders arrived en masse at about 6 p.m.,” said Ralph Jacob, one of the first Legionnaires to arrive at the school. “They were roundly cheered.” Jacob said he arrived at about 4:45 p.m., wearing his Legion cap and carrying a U.S. flag. The event drew San Jose-area media attention, but the church did not show up. American Legion 8th District Commander John Forrett spoke with students at the event.
The church is known for protesting with anti-gay signs, chants and slogans. They protest at military funerals under the belief that the deaths of U.S. troops are God’s punishment for America’s tolerance of homosexuality.