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Associated Press, Published February 16 2011

UPDATED: Fargo South High School play publicity stunt backfires

FARGO — Fargo South High School students trying to create publicity for their school play sent messages to a Kansas-based fundamentalist church known for its anti-gay protests, hoping Westboro Baptist Church members would announce plans to picket the production.

It worked. But it put police on alert and sparked plans for a counter-protest, and might have gotten the students in trouble.

South plans a Sunday production of "The Laramie Project," a play about the killing of a gay man in Wyoming in the late 1990s. Minnesota Public Radio reported that some cast members posted on a Facebook site that has since been taken down that they sent the Westboro church e-mails under fake names, pretending to be offended by the play.

The ploy was revealed when the parent of another cast member complained, saying her bisexual daughter felt threatened. Cindy Gomez said inviting the Westboro Baptist Church to picket the play "is the complete opposite of the message of tolerance the play attempts to teach."

School district spokesman Lowell Wolff said an investigation found a "degree of naivety" among the students but that it did not appear they meant any harm. He said he could not comment on student discipline other than to say officials followed school district policies regarding Internet use and harassment.

Superintendent Rick Buresh said he is viewing the situation as "a whole collection of good learning experiences for kids."

Kelsey Hedman, a Fargo South graduate who now attends North Dakota State University, said the news that cast members "invited a hate group to the community is a huge slap in the face" to the gay cast members at the high school and to the community. Hedman said the planned counter-demonstration will go ahead as a celebration of diversity.

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Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.