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Antigay bigots confronted by hundreds in New Paltz
"This united everybody"

By Dan Keefe | April 9, 2004 | Page 11

NEW PALTZ, N.Y.-- On April 4, supporters of gay marriage made it clear that bigotry is not welcome here. Antigay bigot Fred Phelps targeted this town 75 miles north of New York City, after Green Party Mayor Jason West defied state law to issue same-sex marriage licenses last month.

Hundreds of activists from neighboring towns, New York City and Connecticut joined students and community members for a full day of protest and political discussion. "This was a uniting experience for everybody," said Dale, a member of New Paltz Equality Initiative. "This had the opposite effect of what Phelps had hoped."

"It's not just people wanting to get married who are behind this movement," said West. "The fundamental issue is one of respect and equality--just like the students in the South, Black and white, who demanded respect and equality for Black Americans."

Members of Phelps' Westboro Baptist Church showed up, carrying signs that read, "Thank God for 9/11" and "God Hates Fags." But their antigay message didn't go unanswered.

Hundreds defiantly lined up along the street, singing old civil rights songs. At one of the churches where the bigots picketed, the entire choir came out and sang the picketers down. "All of our churches knew he was coming and were ready to stand with their community," said Rebecca Rotzler, New Paltz's deputy mayor.

New Paltz organizers were initially hesitant to counterprotest because the gay couples who were being targeted didn't want to incite more harassment. But in the end, vocal protesters, chanting "Gay, straight, Black, white--marriage is a civil right!" silenced the bigots.

As they left town, the chant "Bigots go home!" rang through the streets. Sunday's rally showed the potential for building a movement that can challenge the bigots and win.

"Every time you shut down the space for making homophobic slurs, people feel safer," said Jason West. "More people will feel that it's OK to come out."

"This thing is sweeping across the nation," said Unitarian Minister Kay Greenleaf. "No one is coming to rescue us--we must do this ourselves, and now is the time to do it." Local press reported that a rally of 500 people also greeted Phelps in Nyack, N.Y.

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