The infamous anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church -- which is currently making headlines for its claim that God was responsible for a mine explosion this week in West Virginia that killed 25 miners -- has plans to protest more than a dozen Denver area schools, churches and businesses this month.
The hate group from Topeka, Kansas, led by extremist pastor Fred Phelps, has set its sights on an unusual assortment of fifteen Colorado locations, including three public high schools according to the organizer of a counter-protest group planning to speak against the group. (See the scheduled protests and locations below).
"We want to spread our message of peace and acceptance to oppose their message of hate and anger," says Kameron Martinez, a freshman at Metro State College in Denver who organized the counter-protest and identifies himself as gay.
The Westboro (WBC) website, www.godhatesfags.com, which lists its scheduled protests across the country, was down at this writing. But Martinez lists the schedule on a Facebook event, which has attracted more than 1,700 supporters so far.
"I was just going to go even if it was just by myself to all fifteen places, but then my friends wanted to join. So I made a Facebook group, and four days later, there's more than a thousand people," he says.
According to the counter-protest post, the church announced it would be in Colorado from April 22-24, demonstrating during school hours outside Pomona in Arvada, Standley Lake High School in Broomfield, Mountain Range High School in Westminter and -- among the more curious choices -- Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church and School in Boulder.
Sacred Heart recently made headlines of its own for its decision to bar students from attending the school after administrators discovered the students' parents were gay -- a decision that was lambasted by the gay advocacy groups. Apparently, though, that wasn't enough to garner the praise of the WBC. As for Sacred Heart, it's got a history of protesting, too: Church members recently rallied against abortion doctor Warren Hern.
Stefanie Ungphakorn Cowan, a college professor and parent of a freshman at Pomona, says the WBC, known for its offensive and abrasive tactics, has crossed the line by targeting schools.
"It is inappropriate for WBC to be singling out our children at their school," she says. "If it's at the center or Tracks (a popular gay nightclub in Denver), or the places where you would typically see a lot of LGBT community, that's more expected."
Ungphakorn Cowan, an active advocate in the gay community, says she heard about the group heading to Colorado after her daughter was invited to the counter-protest on Facebook. Now, she's coordinating with Martinez and other activists to crash the church's visit to the schools, which school administrators have not yet announced to parents.
"Officially, the schools have not released any info the students or parents," she says. "I called the school (Pomona) today, and the principal is aware of it. They're talking to Arvada police, Westminster police and the school board.
"I have not heard an official announcement from the school that this is happening," she added. "So most parents don't even know this is happening yet."
In fact, Ungphakorn Cowan says when she called to coordinate with Mountain Range High School, administrators weren't aware of the planned protest, or even of WBC's existence.
Principals at Pomona, Standley Lake and Mountain Range High Schools have not yet returned phone calls. We'll update this blog if and when they provide comment.
Martinez says he's notified WBC that they'll face opposition if they come to Colorado. In an exchange on Twitter, he warned Phelps' granddaughter, Megan Phelps, to expect resistance. Check out the exchange below, and WBC's scheduled protests below that.
And here's the protest schedule:
THURSDAY, APRIL 22, 2010
-- 2:10 to 2:40 PM ~ Pomona High School in Arvada -- 3:15 to 3:45 PM ~ Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic School in Boulder -- 4:00 to 4:30 PM ~ C.U. Boulder @ 2795 Colorado Ave. -- 7:00 to 7:30 PM ~ Chautauqua Community House (Chautauqua Park & Morning Glory Dr.)
FRIDAY, APRIL 23, 2010
-- 6:45 to 7:15 AM ~ Standley Lake High School in Broomfield -- 8:10 to 8:40 AM ~ Denver Academy of Torah (6825 E. Alameda Ave.) -- 9:00 to 9:30 AM ~ International Jewish News (1177 Grant St. [Denver]) -- 9:45 to 10:15AM ~ Mosaic National Jewish Center (2222 S. Albion St. [Denver]) -- 2:50 to 3:20 PM ~ Mountain Range High School in Denver (12500 Huron St.) -- 5:30 to 6:00 PM ~ Hebrew Educational Alliance (3600 S. Ivanhoe St. [Denver]) -- 7:00 to 7:30 PM ~ Comedy Works South (5345 Landmark Pl. [Greenwood Village])
SATURDAY, APRIL 24, 2010
-- 8:30 to 9:00 AM ~ Temple Sinai (3509 S. Glencoe St. [Denver]) -- 10:00to 10:30AM ~ Temple Emmanuel (51 Grape St. [Denver]) -- 1:00 to 1:30 PM ~ Jewish Community Center (350 S. Dahlia St. [Denver]) -- 5:00 to 6:00 PM ~ EXDO Event Center (1399 35th St. [Denver])
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.