This is neat because it shows that when the good guys overwhelmingly turned out to oppose the white supremists in Baldwin Park, it wasn't anything unique when real Americans turn out to oppose the hate mongers among us.

Anti-gay protesters opposed by 20 times as many locals

Jim Herron Zamora, Chronicle Staff Writer


Tracy, San Joaquin County -- Thirteen members of an anti-gay church from Kansas who picketed a high school graduation Saturday were met with about 250 counter-demonstrators, 30 police officers and numerous residents annoyed to see divisive protest in this normally quiet town.

Carrying signs reading, "America is Doomed" and "God Hates Perverts," followers and relatives of the Rev. Fred Phelps traveled about 1,800 miles from Topeka to picket the high school graduation at Tracy High because they were upset that students at a different high school in Tracy gained administrative support for resurrecting their chapter of the Gay-Straight Alliance.

"We're here to preach to this generation that it's not all right to be gay,'' said Betty Phelps of Topeka, who carried one sign thanking God for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and another denouncing gays. "They need to learn some morals before Judgment Day."

Phelps is the daughter-in-law of protest organizer Fred Phelps, pastor of Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, whose parishioners travel around the nation to picket events and denounce gays, Catholics and Muslims. Nine of the 13 protesters were members of the Phelps family and their church operates an anti-gay Web site.

Their presence was countered by a much larger group that loudly proclaimed, "Keep Your Hate in Kansas." Others carried signs saying: "Hate is not a family value."

"I'm proud of my city today -- we showed we won't put up with this hatred,'' said counter-protest organizer Justin Daley, a 17-year-old junior at Merrill F. West High School in Tracy.

Daley resurrected the Gay-Straight Alliance at his school and has prodded the administration to deal with harassment of gay and lesbian students. This led to the resignation of a math teacher who allegedly made anti-gay comments to a student.

The Phelps family read about that and decided to launch a protest of Tracy's perceived support of homosexuality.

"These children are clueless,'' said Shirley Phelps-Roper.

She said the parents and teacher of graduating seniors "are guilty of child abuse" for not teaching children the "true word of God" and the "truth about homosexuality."

"If homosexuality is OK, then so is incest and bestiality," Phelps-Roper said.

Both sides stayed a safe distance from one another and were peaceful, Tracy police said. The protest and counter-demonstration did not seem to have any noticeable effect on the graduation ceremony.

But some people who drove by or walked past were very offended when one of the anti-gay protesters was seen dragging an American flag along the sidewalk and the dirt along Eleventh Street outside the high school.

"Take that flag off the ground. You people are just trying to insult us,'' shouted Andy Perez, 35, of Tracy, who entered his niece's graduation late in order to heckle the Topeka group. "You losers wouldn't know God if he stared you in the face. Get on back to Kansas with Dorothy and Toto."

The Phelps group also vowed to picket services at several churches in Tracy today, including Lutheran, Catholic and Presbyterian congregations that allegedly create a "Satanic zeitgeist" by saying "It's OK to be gay,'' the group's flyer said.


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