NEWBURYPORT — The city is taking steps to prepare for an anti-gay protest that is set to occur tonight in Market Square.
The Westboro Baptist Church, a Topeka, Kansas-based anti-gay group, issued a statement saying it will protest tonight's production at the Firehouse Center for the Arts. The production, called the Laramie Project, depicts the aftermath of a well-publicized 1998 murder of a gay University of Wyoming student Mathew Shepard in Laramie, Wyoming, a murder that has been labled as a hate crime.
It's unknown how many -- if any -- members of the Westboro Baptist Church will show up for the 7 p.m. protest. The group has protested the play at other venues. This is the play's last night in Newburyport.
The radical group has held anti-gay protests across the country, at events ranging from funerals of soldiers killed in combat to comic conventions. The group is designated as a hate group by both the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Newburyport officials have asked state police to cordon off an area where the protesters can stand.
Also, a counter-protest has been organized by Newburyporter Jessie Taylor through a Facebook page that she created. Taylor is asking participants to show up at 6:30 for a non-violent protest against the Westboro Baptist Church group. As of 3:45 p.m. today. over 160 people had signed up to attend.