Australian school in Westboro's sights

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Members of the Westboro Baptist Church demonstrate at the Virginia Holocaust Museum on March 2, 2010
Image: JCWilmore.

Margaret River Senior High School, in Western Australia, has become the latest target for the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC). The Kansas-based extremist group announced their plans to picket the school's upcoming play via its Twitter account on Wednesday.

The school captured the attention of WBC when the group discovered students will be performing The Laramie Project — a play about Matthew Shepard, a young gay man killed in a homophobic attack in 1998.

On Wednesday, WBC — well-known for their anti-gay stance — tweeted "WBC to preach God H8s Fags @ the Margaret River Senior High School — the land of the damned down under". Another appeared on Thursday reading: "Westboro pickets Margaret River HS on 4/2/2014 [April 2, 2014]".

According to the school's arts teacher Mem McCormack, the students are excited to have attracted a response from WBC, saying, "They have had an emotional response but they feel quite empowered by it — they feel they are doing something right."

Principal Andrew Host remained sceptical of WBC's plan to picket the school, telling Fairfax radio, "I believe it's highly unlikely that people would travel from the United States to disrupt a play in Margaret River, therefore I don't think the threat is credible."

Graeme Watson, editor of Out in Perth, a gay and lesbian magazine, also believes the group will be unsuccessful, saying that WBC's protest "are as unwelcome here as they are anywhere else".

WBC has previously traded their announced plan to picket an event — a memorial service for victims of the shooting that injured Congresswoman Gabby Giffords — for radio talk show airtime.

The Laramie Project is a set text in the school's drama program chosen because it presents a challenge to the students, according to Mr Host.