Coming to Britain, church with a mission to demonise homosexuals

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

American sect plans first demonstration in UK over play about gay murder victim

A notorious Christian fundamentalist church based in America has threatened to hold its first anti-gay rally in Britain to protest against a play about a homosexual student.

Followers of the Westboro Baptist Church, a virulently homophobic denomination which pickets the funerals of Aids victims and soldiers in the US with “God Hates Fags” billboards, have vowed to protest on Friday outside a sixth-form college in Basingstoke, which is putting on a performance of The Laramie Project.

The group yesterday claimed it had secretly dispatched followers to the UK to avoid being denied entry to the country under Britain’s anti-hate laws.

The play recreates the final days of Matthew Shepard, a gay student from Wyoming who was murdered by two homophobic thugs. Members of the Westboro Baptist Church, which is predominantly populated by founder Fred Phelps and his immediate family, shot to international fame and widespread notoriety when they picketed Mr Shepard’s funeral in 1998, using the opportunity to promote their belief that homosexuals are destined for hell.

In recent years, the members have caused even wider outrage by protesting at the funerals of American servicemen and women, who the church claim have died because God is punishing the West for its acceptance of homosexuality.

If the protest goes ahead, it will be the first time that the globally reviled church has held protests outside North America. It will also place enormous pressure on the Government over whether the sect’s followers should be allowed into the country, or thrown out if they are already here.

Last week, the Home Office sparked a diplomatic row between Britain and Holland the Netherlands when it banned the controversial Dutch MP Geert Wilders from entering the UK because his anti-Islamic proclamations threatened public order.

Lesbian and gay groups have already promised to hold counter demonstrations if the protest goes ahead and some activists on internet forums have even suggested using force to expel Westboro followers from Basingstoke if necessary.

Jach Holroyde, a campaign director of the Queer Youth Network, which has vowed to hold a peaceful protest, said: “Allowing these people entry into the UK would send a very clear message to bigots – that this country tolerates hatred against people based on their sexuality or gender preference.”

Details of the church’s picket plans for Britain were made available on their GodHatesFags.com website. Speaking yesterday from the church’s headquarters in Topeka, Kansas, Shirley Phelps, the 51-year-old daughter of the founder, when asked why the group had decided to target Britain, said: “Y’all turned the world over to fags so you are coming back in body bags.”

Mrs Phelps added that this weekend her church would also be spreading their “God Hates America” message in Buffalo, New York, where a number of funerals for victims of the recent plane crash are being held.

Last night, human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell said the group were unlikely to make it to their protest. “In the past they have threatened to picket events in Britain but they never turned up,” he said. “They are such an absurd, fringe, fanatical group that it’s probably best to just ignore them.”

He added: “I don’t agree with Geert Wilders being banned by the Home Secretary, but since he was, logic and consistency would suggest that the Government should ban Phelps family members from entering the UK on the basis that they stir up hatred against lesbian and gay people.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “The Government opposes extremism in all its forms... that was the driving force behind tighter rules on exclusions for unacceptable behaviour that the Home Secretary announced in October last year.”

Matthew Shepard: Victim of a hate crime

Matthew Shepard was just 21 when his bloodied and beaten body was found tied to a fence post near the town of Laramie, Wyoming. His only crime was to be openly gay in conservative, smalltown America. His murder in 1998 at the hands of two local men, Russell Henderson and Aaron McKinney, who singled Shepard out because he was gay, sparked a nationwide debate about homophobia in the US and jolted the gay community into the type of mass action that had not been seen since the Stonewall riots. They demanded hate-crime legislation that would protect the gay community. In 2007, the Matthew Shepard Act was finally passed, but it was vetoed by George Bush. President Barack Obama has said he will try to make the Act law.

News
John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
Sport
Jonas Gutierrez (r) competes with Yaya Toure (l)
football

Newcastle winger is in Argentina having chemotherapy

Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum
theatre

Returning to the stage after 20 years makes actress feel 'nauseous'

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
peopleThe Times of India said actress should treat it as a 'compliment'
News
news

Watch this commuter wage a one-man war against the Circle Line
Property
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
lifeShould we feel guilty about keeping cats inside?
News
The programme sees four specialists creating what they believe are three perfect couples, based on scientific matchmaking. The couples will not meet until they walk down the aisle together
tvUK edition of wedding show forced to recast after wave of drop-outs
Arts and Entertainment
US pop diva Jennifer Lopez sang “Happy Birthday” to Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, president of Turkmenistan
musicCorporate gigs become key source of musicians' income
Arts and Entertainment
You've been framed: Henri Matisse's colourful cut-outs at Tate Modern
artWhat makes a smash-hit art show
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
Student
The Guildhall School of Music and Drama is to offer a BA degree in Performance and Creative Enterprise
student

Sport
Mikel Arteta pictured during Borussia Dortmund vs Arsenal
champions league
Voices
Yes supporters gather outside the Usher Hall, which is hosting a Night for Scotland in Edinburgh
voicesBen Judah: Is there a third option for England and Scotland that keeps everyone happy?
Arts and Entertainment
Pulp-fiction lover: Jarvis Cocker
booksJarvis Cocker on Richard Brautigan
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

March On Cancer™ - Local Marketing and Promotions Volunteer

This is an unpaid voluntary role.: Cancer Research UK: We need motivational vo...

Teaching Assistants

£50 - £85 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Rapidly developing and growing ...

Supply Teachers needed in Stowmarket

£1034496 - £1516224 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: The Job:Randstad ...

Primary Teacher EYFS, KS1 and KS2

£85 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Randstad Education are urgentl...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week