WASHINGTON -- April 20 -- Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan. announced that it will picket the National Celebration of the 40th Anniversary of the GLBT Civil Rights Movement on Sunday, May 1 at Independence Hall in Philadelphia. In a press release dated April 16, the group challenged openly gay Congressman Barney Frank to a debate with Pastor Rev. Fred Phelps.
The Westboro release reads in part, "God hates America, now a vile homofascist regime irreversibly cursed of God and doomed."
"I couldn't debate Mr. Phelps because I only speak English, and therefore would find it very difficult to communicate with him," Rep. Frank responded.
"We support all citizens' freedom of speech. The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution also guarantees our right to assemble peaceably," added Malcolm Lazin, executive director of Equality Forum. "Rev. Phelps carries hateful signs, promotes homophobia and tries to incite confrontation. Over the past 40 years our civil rights movement has embraced the non-violent message of Mahatma Gandhi; Nelson Mandela; Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Jesus of Nazareth."
Westboro Baptist Church has a long history of homophobic actions, including picketing at Matthew Shepard's funeral service.
Repent America is an organization primarily dedicated to staging anti-gay demonstrations. In February 2005, Repent America announced that it will protest at the National Celebration.
Equality Forum, the Philadelphia-based national GLBT organization coordinating the National Celebration, is working with the Philadelphia Police Department, National Park Service and Philadelphia Bar Association to ensure that the National Celebration and protests coincide peacefully.
Rep. Barney Frank is one of the 40 Heroes who will be honored during the National Celebration of the 40-year GLBT Civil Rights Movement. He will attend the National Celebration to accept a 40 Heroes Award at the Gay Pioneers & 40 Heroes Tribute in front of Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell on Sunday, May 1 from 1 to 3 p.m. The Heroes were selected through an international process.
"On July 4, 1965, in an era of homophobic repression, the Gay Pioneers courageously gave birth to the Gay and Lesbian Civil Rights Movement in front of Independence Hall. We're not about to allow the Rev. Phelps or Repent America to push us back into the closet, nor to stop us from celebrating the progress of the last 40 years."
Equality Forum 2005 & National Celebration (April 25 to May 1) features over 100 programs. More than 105 state, regional, national and international non-profit organizations and 32 national and international GLBT Executive Directors will be participating. Thirty states, D.C. and Puerto Rico will hold State Receptions on Saturday, April 30.
The 16-hour National Celebration on Independence Mall includes the Gay Pioneers & 40 Heroes Tribute; the SundayOUT street festival; screenings of the documentary Gay Pioneers; an Interfaith Service with Bishop Gene Robinson at historic Christ Church; a Gay Icons Pavilion at the Independence Visitors Center; Conversations with Gay Leaders at the National Constitution Center; a National Celebration Concert with Cyndi Lauper, Amber, and Jade Starling at Penn's Landing's Waterfront Amphitheater; celebrities and parties.
There is no registration fee for Equality Forum 2005 and all substantive events including the National Celebration are free. Twenty Center City hotels are offering lowest rate.
For more information, visit the Press Room at http://www.equalityforum.com or contact Dan Wagner, communications associate at email@example.com or 215-732-3378 ext. 10.