2010-11-11 / Front Page

Residents asked to join celebration of gay and lesbian rights

Response to scheduled protest on Nov. 20 at NBTHS by Westboro Baptist Church
Staff Writer

NORTH BRUNSWICK — In response to reports that the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas, will protest the production of “The Laramie Project” by North Brunswick Township High School (NBTHS), hundreds of people are expected to hold a counter-celebration on Nov. 20.

The Alchemist Theatre Company will present the play next weekend, based on the beating death of Matthew Shepard, a young gay man, in Laramie, Wyo., in 1998. Paul Zilber, a recent graduate of the high school and a lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgenderquestioning advocate, said the church found out about the presentation through his Twitter account, so members are planning on protesting at the school around 7:30 p.m. next Saturday.

Zilber created a Facebook page “Westboro Baptist Church vs. North Brunswick Township High School” to try to drum up support for the play, and celebrate the production rather than counter-protest the church members. He said about 1,000 people are expected around 6:30 p.m. Nov. 20.

“We are celebrating the fact that the school even did ‘The Laramie Project’ regardless of the controversy,” Zilber said. “People are going to hate, but people who want to love, we open our arms. … Their minds aren’t going to change no matter what we do … so we’ll turn our backs toward them and have a celebration.” response

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Zilber, who recently had a “Hate only survives in silence” tattoo placed under left arm, has reached out to various guest speakers from the high school, PFLAG (Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians and Gays) and Garden State Equality, well as Bobby Canciello, who holds Guinness Book of World Records title the longest kiss: 33 hours, with another man.

“In my mind, a protest is angry, something we oppose. … How are we tolerant and accepting if we don’t accept everyone’s beliefs?” Zilber said.

“Hate isn’t an NBTHS value. … North Brunswick is not a place you should fear be who you are,” he said.

Yet Zilber said in general that anti-gay sentiments exist because “people fear difference.” “I am gay, and I know what it’s like be harassed. I know what it’s like to alone, and my message is, it gets better,” Zilber said. “People refuse to open up their eyes and ask questions. … If someone gains knowledge, their heart opens automatically, and that’s what my goal is.”

During the celebration, the Lambda Coalition will accept donations for GLSEN (the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network) and the Trevor Project, a suicide hotline.

“This way, good comes out of evil,” Zilber said. For more information, contact Zilber bookpaulskinny@gmail.com.

Contact Jennifer Amato jamato@gmnews.com.

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