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BOSTON--Chinese President Jiang Zemin was not the only public figure facing protests this weekend.
Vice President Al Gore '69 had his share to deal with as well.
The Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., sent a dozen protesters--half of them children--to the Boston area to demonstrate their opposition to homosexuality.
Led by Rev. Fred Phelps, the protesters gathered on Memorial Drive on Friday and greeted Gore's motorcade with brightly colored signs reading, "Thank God for AIDS" and "Fag Lover Gore, 666."
The church's 213 members take turns traveling "almost every weekend" to spread their message, Phelps said in an interview. The church also pickets the funerals of homosexuals who die of AIDS.
Phelps estimated that the group spends $250,000 on travel expenses each year.
"Anytime anybody nowadays in this atmosphere and climate asks a question about the propriety of this filthy thing called homosexuality, they're demonized and called a hate monger," Phelps said in an interview from Topeka last month.
"Anybody who thinks that God loves everyone is a nincompoop," he said. "AIDS is a direct judgment from God almighty on these animals."
The church members had planned their trip to Boston to include picketing at an event where television actor Ellen DeGeneres's mother was speaking and a trip to Provincetown, Mass. When they learned of Gore's visit, they added it to the agenda.
"I was a delegate for him at the '88 convention in Atlanta," said Phelps's son, Fred Phelps Jr. "I traveled all over Kansas with him and his dad. He and Tipper used to represent pro-family values."
But now, Reverend Phelps said, Gore has "taken up with the anti-Christ Clinton." Phelps said Gore has recently endorsed DeGeneres, the star of the television show "Ellen" who announced her homosexuality this year.
"So we said well, now we have to preach to get [him] back to the Lord," Phelps said.
Some students and area residents met the protesters with hostility.
"It has nothing to do with religion. It has to do with hate," said Jeremy Dilbeck, a student at the Kennedy School of Government, who argued with the protesters gathered on Memorial Drive.
Pedestrians and bicyclists yelled at the group and a man leaned from a passing bus, shouting an expletive.
Protesters were undeterred, arguing doctrine with those who stopped to talk.
"It educates these children, I'll tell you," Reverend Phelps said, gesturing to a girl holding a "Save the Gerbils" sign. He said most of the children traveling with him are his grandchildren.
After meeting the motorcade, the group moved to the Massachusetts State House in Boston, where they demonstrated against U.S. Rep. Barney E. Frank '61-'62 (D-Mass.), who is openly gay.
The group drew less attention at the State House, though some stopped to stare.
"I'm sickened," said Melissa Swanson, a student at Suffolk University. "It makes me ill that someone is standing in front of my State House with these signs."
Captain of the State House Rangers Ted Oliver brought a group of guards to the sidewalk to protect the protesters.
"As a Christian man, I really find it offensive," he said. "They should research their own literature."
The group planned to picket at the Fleet Center, where Chicago Bulls star Dennis Rodman was scheduled to play on Friday night. They were also scheduled to demonstrate at Memorial Church on Saturday afternoon against Rev. Peter J. Gomes, Plummer professor of Christian morals and Pusey minister in the Memorial Church, after their trip to Provincetown on Saturday morning. They did not appear.
Reverend Phelps was ordained by the Southern Baptist Church in 1947, but said that his church is no longer affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. He described the organization as "an old-school Baptist church."
The Westboro Baptist Church maintains a Web site located at http://www.godhatesfags.com.
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