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Anti-gay extremists spark support for gay theatre

Members of Fred Phelps' famed Westboro Baptist Church were conspicuously absent last night from their planned picketing of The Laramie Project at the Havana Theatre on Commercial Drive.

A large crowd of the play's supporters gathered outside the venue, ready for a confrontation with the evangelical Christian group. They yelled, honked and waved Pride flags, but the confrontation never came.

There was an air of disappointment among those who were clearly eager to assert themselves in the face of homophobic picketers. "How can they hate if they don't show up?" asked protester Leila Timmins.

The Kansas-based church is known for picketing the funerals of hate-crime victims with extreme signs stating that "God Hates Fags" and speaking out against homosexuality. They picketed the funeral of Matthew Shepard, whose brutal murder in Laramie, Wyoming in 1998 inspired Moises Kaufman's play The Laramie Project.

Fighting Chance Productions, a local theatre company, opened the play last night at Havana Theatre despite threats that the Westboro Baptist Church would picket the event. The theatre group asked the federal government to prevent the church's members from crossing the border in order to spread hate propaganda.

According to the church's press release, the play was targeted because "God hates fags and fag-enablers: ergo, God hates the Havana Theatre, Canada, Vancouver and all and everybody having anything to do with spreading sodomite lies…"

Despite the assertion that they were supposedly all going to hell, a small crowd of cheering protesters appeared to be having quite a nice time, listening to speeches from Vancouver MLA's Spencer Herbert and Shane Simpson, municipal politicians Ellen Woodsworth and Jane Bouey, Rev. Markus Duenzkofer of St. Paul's Anglican Church, as well as the cast of The Laramie Project.

Ironically, the failed actions of the extremist church brought together many members of the gay community, as well as giving the play enough publicity for a completely sold-out run. In light of this, many of the assembled supporters of the play joked that the real "fag-enabler" was Fred Phelps himself.

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