Phelps son to support play about gay teens

Nate Phelps to speak after weekend performances of 'The Bus'

The Topeka Capital-Journal/December 6, 2011

Nate Phelps, an estranged son of Westboro Baptist Church pastor Fred W. Phelps Sr., will return this weekend to his hometown to support the presentation of a play about two gay teens, a large church and small-town homophobia.

"The Bus," which played off-Broadway in New York City this fall, will be staged at 7 p.m. Friday and 1 p.m. Saturday in downtown Topeka at the Blue Planet Cafe, 110 S.E. 8th. It then will be performed at 7 p.m. Saturday at Metropolitan Community Church, 4425 S.W. 19th.

Tickets, which are $10 for students and $15 for others, are on sale in advance at the cafe and will be sold at the door at the church.

After each performance there will be a talk-back session featuring Nate Phelps and the cast and author of "The Bus."

The titular vehicle is an abandoned one in which two teens, Jordan (Bryan Fitzgerald) and Ian (Will Roland), meet to explore their budding relationship.

However, the bus is more than their clandestine rendezvous site. It also serves as a road marker to the Golden Rule Bible Fellowship, the church up the hill attended by Ian and his mother, Sarah (Kerry McGann).

However, Ian's father, Harry (Travis Mitchell), who is separated from Sarah, is tired of the bus sitting in front of his gas station and decides to move it. That prompts a church-led boycott of his business, and the two boys get caught in the skirmish with explosive consequences.

Nate Phelps, the seventh of Fred Phelps' 13 children, left his father's home and church at midnight on his 18th birthday. He lives with his wife and children in Calgary, Alberta, and in recent years has become an advocate of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered community and speaks out against the dangers of religion and child abuse.

"I've heard from gay teens from small towns all over this country who are haunted by my father's message of hate," Phelps said in a release about "The Bus."

"I'd love nothing more than for my family's church to never again stand outside a church, cemetery or business with their hateful message," he said. "But I know my father, and I know any effort to silence him directly will instinctively be met with the opposite effect."

Phelps continued: "I'm convinced that we have to be creative and speak to people in these places directly. 'The Bus' is a beautiful play that speaks to everyday families about the consequences of hate."

Phelps lent his support to the effort to raise money to bring "The Bus" to Topeka with the intent of staging it as close as possible to Westboro Baptist Church, said playwright Jim Lantz.

"After last year's tragic spate of suicides of gay teens, there's a sense of urgency in this play's message about the consequences of homophobia," Lantz added. "By producing a symbolic performance of 'The Bus' as close as we can get to the Westboro Baptist Church, we'll be taking a stand against hate."

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