Before it began picketing the funerals of soldiers, the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) was best known for picketing the funerals of gay people or those they perceived to be gay. In 1998, WBC members set off an angry reaction nationwide when they showed up at the funeral of gay murder victim Matthew Shepard and held up signs saying “No Fags in Heaven” and “God Hates Fags.” According to a WBC Web site, they claim to have staged over 40,000 total protests over the years in more than 600 cities across the United States and internationally in Canada, Jordan, and Iraq since 1991.
The WBC continues to target productions of “The Laramie Project,” a play about Shepard that was subsequently turned into a movie, and to denigrate him and his memory. For example, the group’s announcement in October 2009 of pickets of several California productions of the play included the quote, “Matt Shepard has been in Hell now for eleven years with eternity left to go on his sentence… All else about Matt is trivial and irrelevant.” These pickets are often staged at high schools that perform the play, and regularly generate significant counterprotests.
While the WBC has picketed the gay community at hundreds of events nationwide, most of the individuals the church has targeted are not homosexual.
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