Editors note: This story has been updated. According to Fargo police, members of a Kansas church group do not plan to protest “The Laramie Project” on Sunday.
Some Fargo high school students who are trying to create publicity for their school play might be getting more than they bargained for.
This weekend, the Fargo South High Theatre Department performs “The Laramie Project,” a play about the killing of a gay man in Wyoming in the late 1990’s.
About a week ago the Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church announced it would picket the play on Sunday. The church is known for anti-gay protests at the funerals of soldiers and other events. But late Wednesday afternoon, Fargo Police Department officials said members of the church told the department that they would not protest the event.
Police said they expect Fargo residents who planned a counter protest to go ahead with a demonstration in support of the play.
The counter protest was set in motion after cast members at the high school invited the Westboro Baptist protest group.
The students talked about their plan on a Facebook page since taken down.
“Okay, so I also decided to make up a fake person and email the WBC about how “my son’s” school is doing a pro-gay propaganda show and how we need to show these people by picketing etc.”
“I just sent a message off to the Westboro Baptist Church under the name “Hank Jenkins” telling them how offended I was our school is performing this play and telling them I’d hope they come and make a statement.”
A third student announced the effort had been successful.
“We have officially been added to the WBC picket schedule. I do not know if they will show up or not, but still, I think its pretty cool.”
A parent of one of the Laramie Project cast members called attention to the students’ actions because she said her daughter, who is bisexual, felt threatened.
Cindy Gomez says inviting the Westboro Baptist Church to picket the play “is the complete opposite of the message of tolerance the play attempts to teach”.
Fargo Superintendent of Schools Rick Buresh says, “this is not a group we want to invite to our community.”
Buresh says he’s viewing the situation as “a whole collection of good learning experiences for kids.”
Fargo Public Schools Community Relations and Planning Administrator Lowell Wolff says an investigation found a “degree of naivety” among the students. He says it doesn’t appear there was any “malicious intent” on the students part.
Wolff can’t comment on student discipline other than to state that they followed school district policies regarding internet usage and harassment.
Some of the counter protesters are not happy with the latest turn of events.
Kelsey Hedman, a Fargo South graduate and a student at North Dakota State University, says the news that Laramie Project cast members, “invited a hate group to the community is a huge slap in the face” to the gay cast members at the high school and to the community.
Hedman says she’s very upset students would use what she called a hate group as a marketing ploy.
But Hedman says plans are to go ahead with a counter demonstration which she says will be a celebration of diversity.