Fred Phelps – Gay Rights Champion!
As word spread over the Saint Patrick’s Day weekend that Fred Phelps—founder of the Westboro Baptist Church and malevolent maven of the God Hates Fags website—was lying in a hospital near death, a sense of ebullience and justice spread through the ephemera. While it may seem means-spirited to feel the urge to celebrate the impending death of another human being, one must admit that Phelps earned the ire.
Phelps and the WBC came to international attention when they picketed and protested at the funeral of Matthew Shepard, a young Wyoming man who was brutally beaten, strung up and left to die in a field. His murder sparked outrage over homophobic violence and was one of the seminal moments in the gay rights movement in America. The insanely dichotomous images of mourners and vitriolic protesters galvanized millions to take action to stand up against hatred. Ironically, Fred Phelps and his family of followers became one of the motivating factors in the fight for queer rights.
A little Phelps history: He was associate pastor then pastor of the Westboro Baptist Church, which opened in 1955. He was a Kansas State lawyer who was disbarred in 1977, then subsequently Federally forbidden to practice law in the 1980s after abusing his legal privilege. It wasn’t until the early 1990s that Phelps and his followers began targeting venues where gay people congregated and then began picketing funerals of gay people.
In his zeal to become the archangel of anti-gay righteousness, he became a galvanizing force to fight against homophobia, ignorance and hatred.
The more they picketed and protested, the more press they received and soon they became media mainstays for their outrageous signs and homophobic rants. Phelps became one of the faces of hatred in the 1990s and 2000s with his extremist messages of not only hatred but divine destruction of gay people. While he did garner support from some fringe groups, his next move would put him far out on the margins of society. In 2005, Phelps and the WBC began picketing funerals of war veterans; that is when they became pariah and the object of social and political scorn, as well as legal fodder for new laws banning and limiting funeral protests.
While Phelps may have been fuelled by righteousness and preached hellfire against gay people, the military, and, more bizarrely, Mister Rogers, Jon Stewart and the Irish (to name a few), his certainty that he was a divine messenger to rid the world of homosexuality was not only madness, it’s what did him in. In his zeal to become the archangel of anti-gay righteousness, he became a galvanizing force to fight against homophobia, ignorance and hatred. Even his flock began to take flight as several of his children abandoned him and spoke out against him. His epitaph could read:
Here lies Pastor Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church
1929 – 2014
He was a failure as a lawyer.
He was a failure as a father.
He was a failure as a human being.
He was a failure as a man of God.
He was the accidental champion of gay rights.
Andrew Vail’s writing career began in Halifax when he was but a child. In Grade 4, he wrote and produced his own series of comic books entitled “Freaky The Frog”, the on-going tale of a little misfit frog and his pals of the pond. Marvel Comics never came knocking but Andrew knew he loved to create and tell stories. Since then, Andrew has worked in advertising, PR and publicity; has interviewed politicians, rock stars and very interesting yet not-so-famous movers and shakers. He has published articles in a variety of local and national magazines and websites. Andrew is currently working on the project queer50.com.
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