State troppers, counter-protesters did show up, just in case
GRANDFIELD, Okla. — A protest by a church known for its anti-gay stance didn’t go off as planned but law enforcement officers were on hand just in case.
Members of the Westboro Baptist Church had scheduled a visit to Oklahoma on Friday, March 20 to demonstrate at Grandfield High School, where a teacher resigned after administrators stopped her class’ production of a play about the 1998 killing of gay University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard.
Westboro officials couldn’t be reached Saturday, March 21 for comment on why they didn’t show up.
Had they gone through with the event, they would have encountered at least one counter-demonstrators and a group of Oklahoma Highway Patrol troopers and Tillman County sheriff’s deputies who came to help Grandfield police keep the peace.
"We’re not here to stop the protest — that’s everyone’s right," said Steve Nabors, a law enforcement liaison for the Oklahoma Highway Patrol. "It’s just a safety issue for everybody. It’s better to be prepared than be sorry."
The Topeka, Kan., group, has drawn national and international attention for its protests at military funerals, claiming God allows soldiers to be killed as punishment for the United States for tolerating homosexuality.
That was why Julie Hedrick, the wife of a soldier from Lawton, attended the planned rally.
"I can’t stand them because they use military funerals as a stomping ground for their beliefs," Hedrick said.
Debra Taylor, the teacher who resigned in protest from the school last Friday, said while the play is about a gay college student who was murdered, it also was about hate crimes, speech issues and life in rural communities.
When a school official told her to stop production, Taylor took students to a park next to the school and held a mock funeral. The next day, Superintendent Ed Turlington canceled the class, and Taylor was suspended with pay.
Turlington said Taylor was suspended with pay because of insubordination.
Matt Ebner, a senior at Grandfield High School and one of Taylor’s former students, said he was glad the Kansas group did not show, but was a bit disappointed that the town wasn’t the venue for a vocal showdown of ideas.
"I want other schools to see this, and other communities like us," he said. "Maybe they’ll learn from it and learn to be an advocate and show compassion and tolerance towards people that are different."
Information from: The Lawton Constitution, www.lawton-constitution.com.