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Homosexuality: Battling hate, raising hope

By Alex Gershanov
Published: December 2010

How do you turn a message of hate into a means of support? How do you confront a group fed by publicity, without giving them more attention?

These were the questions set before Wayland High senior Carter Paul and friends when he learned that the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) was to picket Wayland’s Islamic Center of Boston on December 3. The WBC, an extremist group based in Topeka, Kansas and known for its explicit anti-gay messages, toured Massachusetts with signs reading “God Hates Fags and “America is Doomed.

With their final destination being Framingham High’s production of the Laramie Project, the church group made several demonstrations around the state, including this Wayland mosque.

As a counter-measure, Paul helped organize a Facebook group that began as a protest to the WBC but soon transformed into a fundraiser that amassed 1200 dollars in donations to the groups the church opposes.

“I initially thought that it was just going to be me and four friends, he said, “but then it kind of exploded.

Nearly 120 Wayland students, mostly seniors and juniors, showed up Friday morning from 7:50 to 8:20 am waving signs of tolerance and asking for donations.

“It started out as a counter-protest, but the ideology behind it changed, Paul said. “Counter-protesting would validate that they have an argument, so we changed it to a fundraiser in which we got signatures from people who wanted to donate [to the groups the WBC opposed].

Paul recognized that merely protesting across the street from the extremist group would only give them the media attention they sought.

Using the fundraiser method, which he adapted from University of Illinois: Chicago student Jason Connell, he and fellow organizers raised 1200 dollars which they will split evenly among three groups: the International AIDS Foundation, the Islamic Center of Boston, and The Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Youth Group Network of Massachusetts.

The donations will be made in the name of the Westboro Baptist Church.

Paul collected six, doubled-sided pages of signatures that he will attach to a letter thanking the WBC for “protesting in the Boston area and giving the Wayland students an opportunity to help.

Though students had to miss the first block of school to make an appearance at the rally, no cuts were enforced. According to Wayland senior Mere Riley, Wayland High’s dean of students was there along with several other teachers to make sure that everyone was safe.

“Everyone was really hiked up and excited about showing their support, Riley said. “There wasn’t any negativity.

The following day, the WBC made an appearance at Framingham High’s evening production of the Laramie Project, an account of a homosexual college student who was beaten and left to die in Laramie, Wyoming.

The showing sold out and went off without a hitch, despite the WBC’s presence.

Coincidentally, the same church group planned to picket South’s 2005 production of the Laramie Project, but did not make a presence at any of the three showings. Had they come, South’s Gay-Straight Alliance was prepared to stage a counter-protest as well.

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