Inspired by a recent post by Pam Spaulding about the antics of Fred Phelps and his clan of lunatic hatemongers, I’d like to propose an idea for how this group could be humiliated, and possibly even stopped altogether.
The sole raison d’etre of Phelps’ church is to travel around the country picketing anything and everything that they believe demonstrates pro-gay sentiments. Although they have branched out somewhat, much of their ire still seems to be directed at the play The Laramie Project, written to remember the homophobia-inspired murder of Matthew Shepard. According to the Wikipedia article, Phelps targets stagings of this play for pickets on a regular basis. By their own estimates, Phelps’ family spends around $250,000 per year traveling the country to picket.
We can use that anti-gay obsession against them. Imagine if a college or theater in New York staged The Laramie Project with a run of several days; the very next day after the New York showing closed, a different theater in California could open its own run of the play, immediately followed by another theater in, say, Florida, then Washington state, and so on. The idea would be that, if Phelps’ clan is determined to picket every showing of the play, we could force them to repeatedly crisscross the country, making them travel as far as possible between showings. We could even stage showings in other countries. The intent would be to keep this up until Phelps and his followers are utterly exhausted, dispirited and completely out of money for further travel. In addition, it would have the positive side effect of raising awareness of homophobia and advancing the cause of gay civil rights.
Once the point is finally reached where the Phelps clan is unable to reach the next showing, all the theater groups involved in the effort should publicly declare victory and send out press releases to every available media outlet trumpeting the fact that these hatemongers failed in their mission to picket every showing. As the culmination of this plan, every theater that took part in the effort could stage a one-day revival of the play across the country, as a way to declare that the loud voice of freedom and equality can never be drowned out by a few hateful squeaks.
Although this plan would require a substantial amount of coordination, I am confident that it could be done. In addition, it has the potential to draw much media attention to a worthy cause. The media pays shamefully little attention to the efforts of gay-rights groups to fight for equality in the face of intense religious bigotry, but they are attracted to sensationalism like a moth to a flame, which is why the Phelps family lunatics (as well as people like Ann Coulter, who falls into the same group as them) can get airtime on national media outlets despite having absolutely nothing of worth or value to say. Disgraceful as this state of affairs is, I believe we can change it by using the media’s hunger for sensationalism as a hook to draw them to the scene, so that defenders of equality can engage them and present substantive information on the real issues. When a reporter is drawn to one of these stagings by the presence of Phelps, it should be possible to enlighten them to the larger story and explain what is happening and why. What does everyone think – is this a feasible idea?