boy's gift to his parents--a brightly colored flag
that he said reminded him of Kansas and The Wizard
of Oz--has spawned one of the biggest
controversies to hit the tiny town of Meade, Kan., in
a long time. On Sunday police chief Loren Borger, his
colleagues, and 16 troopers from the Kansas Highway Patrol
kept an eye on protests over the rainbow-colored nylon
banner that J.R. and Robin Knight fly on the flagpole
in front of their business, the Lakeway Hotel.
gathered on downtown corners with their video cameras Sunday
morning to watch a protest by the notoriously antigay
reverend Fred Phelps and members of his Topeka-based
church. Phelps's group picketed the hotel because
of the flag and also targeted five local churches for
not doing enough to keep it from flying in their town.
While the flag
reminded the Knights' young son of Dorothy and Toto, it's
also recognized as a symbol of gay pride. Robin Knight said
she and her husband didn't put the flag up to make a
political statement but rather because "it has pretty
colors, it's bright, it's summery."
Soon after the
flag went up, the local newspaper ran a picture of the
banner on its front page, noting its significance in the gay
community. Afterward someone threw two bricks at the
bed-and-breakfast, one of which broke a window and
destroyed two neon signs. When someone cut the flag
down, the Knights ordered two more and said they'll buy even
more if they have to.
On Sunday, as the
daughter of Westboro Baptist Church founder Fred Phelps
protested with 10 of her 11 children, three brothers, and
two sisters, onlookers shook their heads at the
spectacle. "It's just not right," said Suzan Seybert,
a 30-year resident of the southwest Kansas community,
as she watched Shirley Phelps-Roper's children chanting
about gays burning in hell. "I think it's despicable to
start to teach your children at such a young age the
word hate. It's just the worst thing you can do."
who teaches a class at Colby Community College on the
sociology of discrimination, brought some of his students to
see the protests. Among them was Kati Near, who grew
up in Meade. "I think a lot of people think we're all
just a bunch of bigots," she said, adding that she was
embarrassed by what was going on in her hometown.
From the balcony
off the honeymoon suite of his bed-and-breakfast, J.R.
Knight blared music such as Starship's "Nothing's Going to
Stop Us Now." Nearby, in the Lakeway's parking lot, a
car's bumper sticker read, "Kansas: As bigoted as you
think," which is a play on the state's "As big as you
Robin Knight said
earlier this month that the anger spawned by the
colorful flag has strengthened the family's resolve to keep
the banner flying, noting that caving in to the
pressure would send the wrong message to her son.
"It's our business," she said. "It shouldn't be
dictated by other people." (AP)