Dozens protest "God hates fags" group

04/19/10 Kate Bradshaw
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Activists from Topeka’s controversial Westboro Baptist Church held several demonstrations throughout Florida this week. The group, which calls itself God Hates Fags, says it wants to spread an end-times message that targets everything from the military to Lady Gaga. But when they tried to bring their message to the University of South Florida this morning, they were met with massive resistance.

Dozens of counter-protesters seethed at the handful of Westboro demonstrators standing across the street carrying signs with messages like “God hates Jews” and “America is doomed.” Ronnie Barcena explained why the counter-protesters were shouting the U.S. Marine Corps motto.

Disrupting memorial services for fallen soldiers and spouting inflammatory remarks about the Catholic Church are a fraction of what the group does. Shirley Phelps-Roper, a spokesperson for Westboro, said the church’s pedophilia scandal is one reason why they protested in front of USF’s Catholic student center.

The group came to Florida to deliver their end-times message in Gainesville on Israeli Independence Day, Phelps-Roper said. They are also known for saying that Jews killed Jesus, their negative opinion of President Obama goes beyond his economic policy.

The handful of Westboro Baptist protesters were scheduled to picket from 9:15 a.m. - 9:45. But it didn’t work out that way.

That was the sound of a car picking up the protesters and driving them off-site a full fifteen minutes before they were scheduled to stop. USF student Joy Devorre said she stayed up till the wee hours making signs that promote tolerance. She was happy to see them go.

The group was outnumbered at least ten to one by members of Catholic, Jewish, LGBT and other student organizations. Phelps-Roper said they left early because they were ahead of schedule, not because they were overpowered.

The gathering of counter-protesters lasted for at least half an hour after the Westboro activists left. Father Allen Webber, director of the Catholic Student Center, said his and other organizations had originally discouraged any counter-demonstrations.

He says that while the Christian faith is predicated on the concept of forgiveness, he thinks that the extremist messages Westboro expresses are rooted in deep-seated psychological issues.

Lerra McDermott is president of PRIDE USF, an LGBT organization. She said hate needs to be confronted wherever it shows up.

USF women’s studies major Megan Milanese was scantily clad in an outfit made of American flags. She wore a long blonde wig. She explained that Lady Gaga inspired her getup.

Organizers said they were surprised at how diverse the turnout was. Rabbi Ed Rosenthal, campus rabbi and Hillel director, said there’s no room on campus for intolerance.

Westboro Baptist also picketed at last Saturday’s Bon Jovi concert and Plant High School. The USF visit was their final Tampa stop before they head to Colorado to demonstrate at several Catholic, Jewish and public schools.

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