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Thousands rally at UMass to support LGBT community, counter WBC protest

Wednesday, April 16, 2014
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Members of the LGBT community and allies organize in a peaceful rally and march at the UMass campus on April 16, 2014.MassLive.com

Members of the LGBT community and allies organize in a peaceful rally and march at the UMass campus on April 16, 2014.

A Westboro Baptist Church member pickets near the UMass campus on April 16, 2014.

A Westboro Baptist Church member pickets near the UMass campus on April 16, 2014.

AMHERST, Mass. — An estimated 2,000 people rallied at the University of Massachusetts on Wednesday in support of the LGBTQ community, and UMass basketball player Derrick Gordon, the first openly gay male athlete in NCAA Division 1 sports.

The rally was organized to counter a protest by members of the Westboro Baptist Church, who traveled to UMass to in response to Gordon’s coming out.

Five members of the church picketed about a quarter of a mile away from the rally, displaying signs containing messages such as “UMass Fag Enablers” and “Death Penalty 4 Fags.”

The Westboro picketers drew a rowdy group of more than 100 across the street in a counter protest. Members of the group were yelling such thing as “in breeders” and swearing at the church members, reported MassLive.com.

Westboro members were protected in a safe zone and could not be approached. Nearly a dozen police officers were on hand to keep the groups apart and to maintain the safe space.

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On campus, the rally in support of the gay community drew students, community members and UMass officials and a large contingent of the faith community. Many were wearing purple or tie-dyed shirts as requested by organizers. They carried signs reading “I’m gay and Jesus still loves me” and “Jesus Loves Queer People.”

The Wesboro Baptist Church, based in Topeka, Kan., is not affiliated with the Baptist denomination or any other Baptist church, and has actively fought against gays and gay rights since at least 1991. In 2011, the church stated that it had about 40 members, which consists almost entirely of members of founder Fred Phelps’ extended family. Phelps died last month.

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