The young girl was there with her father, a local Portlander, to show support for Reverend Fred Phelps. Notorious for staging a rambunctious protest at the funeral of Matthew Shepard, the gay college student who was fatally pistol-whipped in Wyoming two years ago, Rev. Phelps heads the Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas. Phelps and his small congregation regularly travel to sites around the country where they believe "the homosexual disease" has taken hold.
The arrival of the anti-gay congregation coincides with the increasingly heated debate over Ballot Measure 9, a voter initiative intending to silence curriculum "promoting" homosexual issues in public schools. Arriving less than two months before the November elections, Phelps' congregation claimed that they were in Oregon to protest a slew of "fag schools" and one "fag company."
Oregon Citizens Alliance (OCA), the authors of Ballot Measure 9, deny any allegiance with Phelps congregation. Even so, pointed out Kathleen Sullivan, manager for the No on 9 campaign, "Fred Phelps' coming to Oregon in protest was in some ways a foreshadowing of what would happen in our schools if Measure 9 passed--we don't think our schools should be battlegrounds."
Though Phelps himself never actually arrived at the Grant High School protest, six members of the Westboro Baptist Church were there representing his self-acclaimed "anti-fag" crusade. They held signs that read "Fags Die, God Laughs" and "Matthew Shepard Burns in Hell."
One of the six congregational members there, Charles Hockenbarger explained that he believes that Grant High School has written "a set of standards that promotes the homosexual agenda."
Hours later, the congregational members staged a similar protest at Newberg High School along the Oregon coast. The school captured attention earlier this year when Sharon Caldwell, a mother of a male student there, claimed that Newberg High turned her son into a homosexual. "He went in a heterosexual and came out a homosexual," Caldwell told a FOX affiliate news crew. Phelps' followers denounced the small community of Newberg for promoting homosexuality and the spread of "fag schools."
The abrupt tactics of Phelps' congregation on Friday caused the few supporters of Measure 9 to reconsider their stance.
"We have nothing to do with Fred Phelps," stated Darryl Howard, executive director of the Oregon Republican Party. In the most recent straw poll concerning Measure 9, the Oregon Republican Party claimed 93 percent of its members support the initiative. Howard added, "[Phelps] ought to stay out of Oregon Politics and let Oregonians do their own decision-making."
Howard concluded that, "The way to change people's views is through their hearts. No, we don't agree with [Phelps'] methodology in any way."