The hundreds of counter-protesters who lined First Avenue across from Lindale Mall became the protesters after their would-be adversaries proved to be a no-show Friday night.
Expecting members from Rev. Fred Phelps’ Westboro Baptist Church to be picketing outside the premier of “The Laramie Project” at Theatre Cedar Rapids, the counter-protesters were unfazed by the absence of anti-homosexual Kansans and demonstrated, it seemed, for the sake of it.
Members of the Westboro Baptist Church had announced earlier this week that they would be protesting the performance of an award-winning play that tells the story about the death of Matthew Sheppard, a Wyoming college student, who was killed because he was gay.
TCR spokesman Rob Merritt said they knew that such a contentious play could bring some sort of backlash.
“Marshalltown did a production of ‘The Laramie Project’ last year and members of Westboro were there to protest,” Merritt said. “But if we have a theater piece we think is important, we’ll do it. And we’ll respect their right to protest it.”
As the week went on, counter-protesters used Facebook to gather members of the community in protest of the church’s protest. Ultimately, demonstrators found themselves protesting the specter of hate.
“That church wanted to appeal to hate,” said Kimberli Maloy, one organizer of the demonstration. “We don’t believe in their hateful message because God doesn’t hate.”
Of the more than 300 demonstrators, many were young. A large group of high school students from Cedar Rapids Washington came with homemade signs for their first-ever demonstration.
“As a society, it’s not acceptable to be so biased,” said Alexis Anderson, 14, of the members of Westboro Baptist Church. “”Hate is what they’re all about, we’re here to show there’s nothing better than showing love for each other.”
The Gazette was unable to reach Phelps or representatives from his congregation for comment.