The weekend of the 10-year anniversary of 9/11, a church with extreme anti-homosexuality views picketed Fashion Week and various 9/11 memorials to preach their message that God hates homosexuality and has been punishing the American people for its prevalence in American culture. Outside the Lincoln Center Fashion Week headquarters, their incendiary words and placards caused great offense to New Yorkers.
At 3pm sharp on the first Saturday of Fashion Week, 14 people entered a cordoned-off area on Columbus Avenue opposite Lincoln Center, unpacked dozens of plastic placards, and put on T-shirts advertising their website ‘godhatesfags.com.’ Their placards read: ‘Soldiers Die for Gay Marriage’ and ‘F– Lover Cuomo.’
On the day before the 10-year anniversary of 9/11, they also carried signs with the World Trade Towers collapsing. Beneath the pictures was written ‘God’s Fury’ and ‘Thank God for 9/11.’
“I have no words for this. It’s obscene. I can’t believe that anyone really believes that. It’s such a waste of humankind,” said Antonella Zanghieri, a photographer for Adam clothing brand who was working nearby.
The 14 congregants were from the Westboro Baptist church, known for its extreme stance on homosexuality. They had travelled from Topeka, Kansas to target Fashion Week and a number of 9/11 memorial events across New York City to spread their message; namely, that God hates homosexuality.
Jael Phelps, founder Fred Phelps’s granddaughter, says they believe 9/11 was God’s punishment for homosexuality in the United States. “Ten years ago when 9/11 happened, people were throwing their arms up in the air and asking ‘Why’ and ‘How’ did this happen? And this is the answer. It was God’s punishment for your proud sin. This state allowing f– marriage is the last straw. It’s an insult to Christ Jesus,” Phelps explains.
The small but loud group of protestors quickly drew a crowd. Many people were visibly upset and shouted back at the picketers. Several gay couples moved right up to the cordon and kissed demonstratively while the picketers yelled and chanted.
Jodie Rottel, local resident and student at Manhattan School of Music, said: “I just came back from lunch and was walking through—I thought it was a joke! It’s really inappropriate to do this outside Lincoln Center where there’s about to be a 9/11 memorial event…but that’s freedom of speech.”
The church was founded in 1955 by Fred Phelps, the today the bulk of its 75-strong membership is made up of his extended family. The church first received national attention in 1998 after being featured on CNN for picketing the funeral of a Wyoming teenager who was murdered for being gay. Recently they have been known for picketing military funerals and have proven adept at attracting media attention, showing up at high-profile events and using Twitter. They claim to speak the word of God in denouncing homosexuality and those who ‘enable’ homosexuality.
Fashion Week was a picketing target because they claim it ‘enables’ homosexuality and sinfulness: “This total obsession with appearance and clothing all around us is all for people to get themselves into a position to fornicate,” said Phelps. “This is wrong. We preach abstinence. A man and a woman together should be the first and only marriage that people have. That is the standard and anything less is unacceptable.”
Several bystanders appealed to the half dozen police officers standing guard to stop the protest, insisting that their hateful words would cause a riot, but NYPD Officer Pascua explained all they could do was protect the picketers if somebody attacked them. They protest caused some commotion but did not disrupt proceedings–their protest ‘pen’ was across the street from the Lincoln Center steps, about 60 yards from the main Fashion Week tent.
Some bystanders also noted that despite the protesters’ hateful words, the protest reminded them they were fortunate to live in a country that allowed free speech. “You stop them from saying their nonsense, you stop others from saying anything important,” saidMichael Benedetti. Terry Robinson, a retiree who lives in the nearby Lincoln Towers, said: “I disagree with them and I’m hurt by what they say, but the strength of this country is that we have free speech. I saw someone else get upset and tell them she hoped they go to hell, and I apologized to them. They are entitled to their point of view.”
At about 3.30pm, when the allotted time on their protest permit lapsed, the protesters quickly packed up their placards and walked away, with many shouting “good riddance!” after them. Their next stop on the picketing schedule was a St Patrick’s Cathedral service to protest ‘dead body worship.’ On September 11, they would picket the memorial ceremony at the World Trade Center site.