St. Clair [Mich.] High School's production of The Laramie Project is scheduled to open Thursday despite plans by members of a Kansas church to picket the show. The play tells the story of Matthew Shepard, a young gay man who died in October 1998 after he was beaten and tied to a fence outside Laramie, Wyo. Two men were sentenced to life in prison for the killing. Director Mark Eberhard said the show will go on, and East China School District officials don't believe students' safety is at risk. About 10 to 12 members of Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., plan to protest at the East China Performing Arts Center.
The school, located in St. Clair County, decided to present the play to spread an anti-hate-crime message, Eberhard told the Times Herald of Port Huron. "It's really about hate crimes and stopping hate crimes," he said of the play. "This church seems to interpret it as a play that encourages the gay lifestyle." Members of Westboro Baptist Church, led by the Reverend Fred Phelps Sr., travel around the country protesting homosexuality. He is depicted as one of the play's characters because of his involvement in picketing Shepard's funeral. Phelps and his followers have protested productions of the show at high schools, colleges, and professional theaters around the country. "High school-age kids are very impressionable," church member Betty Phelps said. "They're being given the impression that it's OK to be gay, and we're about spreading the message that it's not OK." Betty Phelps, who is the minister's daughter-in-law, said she doesn't know whether the Reverend Phelps will join the protest.
Dave Simpson, East China Performing Arts Center manager, said the school district will have heightened awareness during the event but isn't planning any other security changes for the three shows. St. Clair High School is located about 50 miles northeast of Detroit. (AP)