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Westboro protest, million "Fag" March, enters 5th year.

TOPEKA - It began as a conversation among friends about the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) and their extreme hate-mongering, and has since bloomed into an annual event that has garnered local, regional and national attention. The event, called the Million "Fag" March (MFM), will occur in Topeka for the fifth year on April 28.

Chris Love, the founder and organizer of the event, says he launched the idea because he was simply fed up with seeing WBC on the news. He wanted to launch a counterprotest, but keep it positive and peaceful.

"From there the idea of 'protesting the protesters' came fairly quickly," says Love. Word spread quickly with the help of a Facebook page and a website. "420 people showed up the first year, and we've more or less maintained that number each year since," he says. "The event went better than imagined, with everyone seeming to understand that while we were protesting negative people; we didn't need to do that by being negative ourselves."

Those wondering why an event that emphasizes a peaceful protest would use such a hateful word in its title can refer to the event's website for a clarification: 'We don't use the word to make light of its harmful meaning and history. Nor are we trying to "take it back." By having everyone but the Phelps' fall under the definition of "fag" for at least one day, we're hoping to render the word completely meaningless.'

This year's MFM will be held at Gage Park in Topeka - a few blocks shy of the Westboro Baptist Church. The crowd will line up along the streets on the northwest corner of the intersection of 10th Avenue and Gage Boulevard.

Love says this year will be similar to events in the past. Though they're still in the early planning stages of this year's event, Love says they hope to secure a speaker and potentially add live music to the event. Past MFMs have included special guest speakers such as Nate Phelps, an ex-member of the WBC who now advocates against the church.

Love explains that while the initial purpose was simply to be a vocal opposition to the Phelps family, the MFM has become a way for people of different backgrounds to acknowledge their common ground and spend one day together realizing that none of them are really all that different.

"It's really become more of a rally to support the many different people that make a community a better place to live, and to show that there are way more of us trying to bring people together than tear them apart like the Phelps family attempts," Love explains.

Of course, in the past five years the MFM has been in existence, there was bound to be run-ins with the Phelps clan.

"I've spoken to many members of the WBC since the event was started," Love says. "While in general they tend to speak of us as though we're an inconsequential group who has no effect on them, the sheer amount of time they've taken to deride us or talk to me personally about the event leads me to believe that we're anything but inconsequential to them."

Surprisingly, Love says that in general, the Phelps people are pretty friendly. "So long as you don't go near one of their hot button issues [anything you've seen on one of their signs], they're happy to engage in polite, engaging conversation," Love says. But the moment you remind them of their "message," he adds, it becomes the fire and brimstone, hateful God speech we've all come to know.

Love even attempted to get Shirley Phelps-Roper to speak at a MFM event. "I fully assumed, and hoped, she'd turn this opportunity down, and she did," he said. The two did exchange e-mails that were, as Love describes, sometimes friendly, other times the familiar hate speech. "She did, however, tell me she liked me and asked me to stop what I was doing, as she didn't want me to go to hell. Obviously I didn't listen," he said.

In reality, Love says, he doesn't believe there will ever be a step forward with the WBC. But that's not the mission of the Million "Fag" March. The event is less about protesting at WBC directly and more about treating each other and members of the community fairly and decently. "Also, a positive message is a lot more fun and enjoyable than a negative one," Love says.

RELATED ARTICLE: The 411:

What: Million "Fag" March

When: Saturday, April 28

Where: Gage Park, Topeka

What to bring: A sign, a good attitude, and friends!

Further details: www.themfm.com or www.facebook.com/events/314422765263239
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Author:Reid, Ciara
Publication:Liberty Press
Geographic Code:1U4KS
Date:Apr 1, 2012
Words:778
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