British Columbia

Supporters defend Laramie Project playing at Vancouver café

Amid threats from a U.S. anti-gay group, dozens of people gathered outside a Vancouver café Friday night to support the staging of a play that tells the story of a murdered gay American student.
Supporters gather outside a Vancouver café to back the staging of a play that tells the story of an American gay student murdered 10 years ago. ((CBC))

Amid threats from a U.S. anti-gay group, dozens of people gathered outside a Vancouver café Friday night to support the staging of a play that tells the story of a murdered gay American student.

The Laramie Project was playing at the Havana Café on Commercial Drive in the city's east side. The Westboro Baptist Church had vowed to disrupt the play when it was being staged Friday night.

Café spokesman Peter Luke said the church, headed by Fred Phelps and based in Kansas, had notified the café that church members would be in Vancouver to protest the show.

Several officers from the Vancouver Police Department were on the scene to guard against any potential violence.

Havana Café spokesman Peter Luke says he thinks it is 'quite ridiculous' that people from the Kansas-based church would 'come all the way here to really protest against something that is a creative endeavour.' ((CBC))

"I feel it's quite ridiculous that people in this day and age will still kind of hold that mindset, you know, and actively travel a good chunk of distance to come all the way here to really protest against something that is a creative endeavour," Luke said.

The Westboro Baptist Church, which openly spreads anti-gay messages, had vowed to disrupt the play when it was staged at various U.S. locations, but church members never followed through on their threats.

The Laramie Project is based on the death of 21-year-old Matthew Sheppard, a gay college student at the University of Wyoming, who was tied to a fence and left to die near Laramie in October 1998.

The church's threat to interfere with the play triggered a huge response from Vancouver's gay community, whose members showed up at the café Friday night to counter any protest by the church.

"It's really important that we take a stand but not a stand out of anger, a stand out of caring and kindness," said Jim Deva of Little Sister's bookstore, which sells gay and lesbian-related literature.

"I think you defy hatred by love. That's how you deal with hatred, and you open up the dialogue and you begin conversing and talking," Deva said.

The play at Havana Café began at 8 p.m. PT, but there was no sign of members of the Westboro church by 10 p.m.

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