Believe it or not, Fred Phelps did more for gay rights than people might realize.
I hated Fred Phelps. Actually, hated may not be a strong enough word. I despised the man. Everything about him made my skin crawl. When I found out that the founder of the Westboro Baptist Church and “God Hates Fags” website had passed away, the day instantly seemed a little brighter. But almost as quickly I felt shame for being happy about his death.
There were many reasons to hate Fred Phelps. Mostly, it boiled down to one thing; he brought out the ugly in people. Fred Phelps taught people how to hate. He made them believe it was okay to teach their children hate. It is not okay to have your child stand on the street with a sign that says “Death Penalty for Fags.” It is not your job as a parent to teach your kid to hate someone, ever.
After his death, however, I read Mark Silk’s blog post “Thank God For Fred Phelps.” Silk argued that Fred Phelps “made religious hostility to homosexuality repulsive.” And to some degree he is right. How else could you explain the unlikely support of bikers coming together to block a protest by Westboro of a soldier’s funeral?
In this sense, Phelps also brought out the beauty in people. His over-the-top antics repulsed people more than anything, but for every action, there is a reaction. Phelps’ hate was so insane that many people, even homophobes went in the opposite direction. Acceptance of gays is now at an all-time high across America. Same-sex marriage is now legal in 18 states and will likely be legal across the country in short order.
The biggest demographic shift is in younger Americans. Many younger people are struggling to reconcile their beliefs surrounding gays with the image of a God that “hates.” In fact, many of Phelps’ own children and grandchildren have left Westboro because they could not accept the message of hate.
I will always shudder at the sight of children holding signs of hate because they are too young to understand their actions. I am more inclined, however, to view Fred Phelps as an unlikely hero of the gay rights movement. I also take comfort in the fact, that for the most part, people will choose compassion. Hate, it seems, always loses and that is a good thing.