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Groups unite against Jewel Box protests

POULSBO — As the curtains draw to a close on the last showing of “The Laramie Project” Saturday, the sold out crowd may give the Poulsbo Players a standing ovation.

But this particular closing night, even some non-theatre-goers will be standing up for the Jewel Box Theatre.

Late last week, an announcement was made that a “Take a Stand Against Hate” rally will take place at the Poulsbo theatre from 5-8 p.m. Oct. 25.

The event is sponsored by Kitsap Human Rights Network, Suquamish Community Congregational Church of Christ, Bainbridge Unity Coalition, Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, A Territory Resources and the Suquamish Olalla Neighbors.

The event is meant as a counter protest to the intended picketing of the local theatre by Pastor Fred Phelps and members of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan. A press release was sent to the Jewel Box Sept. 29 announcing the congregation’s intent to be present at the Oct. 25 show of “The Laramie Project.”

Members of WBC are nationally known for their strong anti-homosexual stance. They maintain that “The Laramie Project,” a play depicting interviews with about 200 Laramie, Wyo. residents after the violent death of Matthew Shepard, glorifies the homosexual lifestyle. They picketed Shepard’s funeral and have made appearances at many showings of “The Laramie Project” across the nation.

Jerry Hebert, president of the Kitsap Human Rights Network said he’s been disturbed by a handful of discriminatory events locally in recent weeks. The letter from WBC, he added, was a sort of last straw.

“We said, ‘We need to stop this right now. This is not what our community is about,’” Hebert explained.

Hebert said he does not believe “The Laramie Project” supports homosexuality, but rather condemns hate crimes. The network receives reports of all manners of hate crimes and Hebert said he believes tolerating hate of any kind opens the doors for other discrimination.

“We’re defending the Jewel Box Theatre,” Hebert said. “We think it was very brave of them to take on something they knew was going to be controversial and stick to it.”

Sondra Ashton, Jewel Box Artistic Director and director of “The Laramie Project,” said she hopes the counter protest will stay silent and non-violent. But all in all, she and her actors appreciate the action.

“I’m really glad to see that there are people who are willing to stand up against the violent hate that Fred Phelps’ people put out there and say, ‘We won’t tolerate that here,’” Ashton commented.

The counter protest will begin at 5 p.m. Saturday at the Kvelstad Pavilion at Poulsbo’s Waterfront Park. Comments are expected from the Reverend Tom Thresher of the Suquamish Community Congregational United Church of Christ, Senator Betti Sheldon, Representative Phil Rockefeller (by letter), Commissioner Chris Endresen and City Councilwoman Jackie Aitchison. Mayor Donna Jean Bruce will read a proclamation made this week to, “Take a Stand Against Hate and to Speak Out.”

“She was really supportive. She responded immediately with no hesitation,” Hebert said of Bruce’s response to the rally idea.

After comments, the group will march along Jensen Way to the Jewel Box Theatre, where a candle light vigil will take place in the parking lot of the Poulsbo Post Office. An interdenominational prayer circle will also take place nearby.

“We’ll be praying the entire time for Fred Phelps’ enlightenment and for the enlightenment of anyone else who speaks hate,” Hebert said.

Hebert said conservatively he expects between 200 and 500 people to attend the rally, however, he said it’s always hard to tell. He recalled a recent Bainbridge Island Stand Against Hate event that garnered 2,000 participants.

“We have some people who are so disturbed by this that come rain or come shine they’ll be there,” Hebert commented.

The public is invited to join the rally at any point. Hebert added that community members can also support the cause by taking part in a pledge drive between now and Saturday. Citizens are being asked to pledge an amount of money they will give for every minute Phelps and the WBC protest outside the Jewel Box. All donations will be given to the Kitsap County Health District AIDS program. Pledges can be made at the rally, or by calling (360) 697-3429.

Putting on “The Laramie Project” as best they can will be the main focus for the Poulsbo Players Saturday night, commented Ashton. The actors have been advised that once they arrive at the theatre, they will not be allowed to leave the building until the play is over. Ashton said some players wanted to be able to see what was going on outside that night, but realize that completing their run is the best thing they can do to counteract the WBC.

“I’d say every one of our lives have been changed by this play,” she said. “In a sense we’ve stood up for something, too.”

Sidebar:

Local churches that are the intended targets of Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church Oct. 26 will also be the focus of counter activities by participating groups.

Reception committees are planned to be present at St. Charles Episcopal Church, St. Olaf’s Catholic Church and First Lutheran Church Sunday morning. Those present will be from the same groups supporting the rally at the Jewel Box Theatre Saturday evening.

Jerry Hebert, president of the Kitsap Human Rights Network, said the idea behind the rallies Sunday will be to show Phelps and the WBC a message of respect and forgiveness.

“One of the things I’m encouraged by in this event is that we have the religious community supporting us in this,” Hebert said. “This event should be a specific call to Christians to take back the word. Jesus didn’t teach hate. We want to respond to a hate message from one Christian with a message of love from another Christian.”

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