Anti-gay protest at Tweed Courthouse

Singing “God Bless America” and carrying anti-gay signs, eight members of the Rev. Fred Phelps’ Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas, came to the Department of Education headquarters in the Tweed Courthouse on Mon. Sept. 8, the first day of school, to protest the Harvey Milk High School.

The five women and three men began their demonstration shortly before 8 a.m. at the Hetrick-Martin Institute on Astor Pl. and Broadway where the Harvey Milk school for gay, lesbian, transgender youth is located. An hour later, they turned up at the Tweed Courthouse.

“It’s a fag high school,” Phelps told a reporter, referring to the Harvey Milk school, “It’s to protect little fags, an absolute fraud on the nation and on this town.” His followers carried signs saying “God Hates Fags,” and “God Hates America,” some with sexually explicit drawings.

One demonstrator said the Westboro Baptist congregation was “the true church of Jesus Christ.” A couple of passing high school students stopped to question the demonstrator who cited Biblical injunctions against homosexuality and declared it was a duty to fight what he called “immorality.” Two police officers on motor scooters stopped by but there were no arrests.

“Rather than address the lunacy of Rev. Phelps, it’s more important to get the word out about why Harvey Milk High School needs to exist in 2003,” said Richard Haymes, executive director of the Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project.

“These are the most vulnerable students – on the precipice of dropping out, running away or committing suicide because they were subject to threats and being beaten up in their own schools. These 170 students are about 1.7 percent of gay and lesbian youth in city schools. They don’t learn how to be gay or study gay math, they’re there because they need a safe environment to learn,” Haymes said.

The school has been in existence since 1989 but this is the first year that the city has decided to put some resources into it, Haymes observed.

Phelps said his group would remain in New York to appear later on Monday on Sirius Radio, a radio Web station that Phelps described as part of a “fag network.” The Westboro Baptist group mounts frequent protest against gay-related events in New York and elsewhere and has even demonstrated at funerals of people who have died of AIDS.

—Albert Amateau