Fred Phelps, the founder of the hated Westboro Baptist Church, is near death, according to his estranged son Nate Phelps. I have a lot of conflicting emotions about this, so prepare for a rambly post as I sort through what I’m feeling. Feel free to add your own thoughts in the comments.
The first thing I said when I heard the news was, “Good.” A part of me is glad he’ll be dead soon, and I won’t deny it. While I try to stop short of actually wishing someone would die, I will say that he did a lot of harm, and the world will be better off without him. I sincerely hope he never gets the chance to picket another funeral.
I also hope that his death spells the end of his church. While it seems like they have new leadership for the time being, I imagine they won’t be able to function without the man who founded and led the church for half a century. With any luck, the WBC won’t exist in ten years.
In an interesting way, his impending death mar ks the end of an era. Fred Phelps spent decades hating queer people, and he became a symbol of the hatred and bigotry that we face every day. With the recent passage of marriage equality laws in several states, increasing protections for queer people in the workplace, and growing acceptance of queer issues among the general population, it really feels like anti-queer bigotry is dying, in this case quite literally. It’s almost poetic.
I’m also starting to think of Fred Phelps in another way. His unabashed bigotry helped show the world exactly what it means to be anti-queer. He exposed the ulterior motives behind “Love the sinner” and “Religious freedom.” He was the embodiment of anti-queer hate, and even though most politicians and pundits managed to be more diplomatic, Fred Phelps showed what was lurking underneath.
He was, for many people, the face of the anti-queer movement. He was who we rallied against, he brought us out to counter-protest, and he brought out the people who allied with us. He inspired some of the most creative counter-protests I’ve ever seen, and I can’t help but imagine communities were strengthened wherever he went, despite his best efforts.
Many people commented (extremely creatively, I’m sure) that we should protest his funeral, suggesting everything from picketing the cemetery to dancing on his grave to holding mass same-sex weddings. Instead, I think we should take the time to celebrate all the things he didn’t do. Despite spending a lifetime trying to tear down the queer community, he helped make us stronger than ever. Despite railing against the supposed evils of queer people, he inspired many non-queer people to see us as human, and to work with us as allies. Despite trying to spread a message of hate and bigotry, he instead helped (indirectly) spread a message of love and acceptance. Celebrate that.