Church to picket 'queer' proms

San Joaquin News Service/August 24, 2005
By Nick Juliano

A hate-preaching church has announced it will picket a planned "queer-friendly" prom at Tracy and West high schools this spring, though a church organizer acknowledges the protestors likely won't change any minds.

"We're not about the business of winning souls to Christ or engaging in debate; we've got a message," said Shirley Phelps-Roper, a spokeswoman for the Westboro Baptist Church. "That message is: You're going to hell, and there's nothing you can do about it."

The church, based in Topeka, Kan., has made a name for itself preaching hatred of homosexuals at rallies across the country. Of its 100 or so members, about 70 are descendents or in-laws of founder Fred Phelps.

"It's a joke, they have no sense whatsoever," said Justin Daley, who is organizing the gay-friendly prom. "They pretty much represent a hate group, and that's all they represent."

About a dozen church members descended on the city in June to protest the Tracy and West high school graduations, where they were outnumbered 10 to one by gay-rights advocates.

"Do we expect to be taken seriously? Hell no," Phelps-Roper said. "We hope you go on like little dolts headed straight to hell."

Daley, president of West's Gay Straight Alliance, is asking Tracy Unified School District officials to allow his group to hold a dance at one of the schools that would cater to same-sex couples. It still would be open to all students, he said. If the group can't get school sponsorship, Daley said he would hold the dance independently.

He dismissed the planned protest, but said church members have every right to show up.

"They're not going to stop me from creating this prom," he said.

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