An anti-gay picket outside the National Memorial Service for bushfire victims on Sunday has turned out to be a hoax.

The planned picket by gay-hate group the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) at Sunday’s memorial service outside Rod Laver Arena attracted the media and counter-protesters but no actual picketers.

The WBC claimed the fires were divine punishment for homosexuality, divorce and adultery in Australia.

In a press release dated February 16, WBC said -œThank God for Fiery Death of Hundreds, claiming they would picket the memorial service.

It is not the first hoax protest by the Kansas-based church, headed by Fred Phelps, which routinely issues statements claiming to picket advertised performances of The Laramie Project (the play about murdered gay student Matthew Shepard).

The church also said they plan to protest the upcoming Mardi Gras parade in Sydney.

Australian Coalition for Equality spokesman Corey Irlam said the group had received -œgood advice that the WBC picketers would arrive in Australia. He refused to comment on where he received the advice.

Despite previous hoax pickets, Irlam defended ACE mounting a vocal response to the WBC, saying the community had to be prepared.

-œImagine some kid in the country hearing -˜God hates fags’ and there was no response to that, let alone people turning up to protests, he said.

Irlam would not comment on whether ACE would ignore any future WBC statements, but the group would not be getting into a -œwar of words.

-œThis hoax by the church, including lying to the media, just demonstrates that this cult will do and say anything to cause pain and heartache to innocent people, Irlam said in a later statement.

-œThese fundamentalists have no shame in lying and deceiving the public and the media to deliver messages of extremism and intolerance.

Several bushfire victims from the GLBT community, including Marysville bed and breakfast owners Patrick Jennings and Geoff Grady, and former ALSO Foundation dance party choreographer Kate Ansett, have been mourned by others in the community.

NAPWA media officer Paul Kidd and his partner Brent Allan are safe and well in eastern Victoria.

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