I just learned that the infamous leader of the Westboro Baptist Church, Rev. Fred Phelps Sr., died yesterday. Phelps, who will be best remembered for his legacy of hate, such as: “Thank God for dead soldiers,” and “Thank God for 9/11,” because all of those deaths were “God’s punishment” for American immorality and tolerance of homosexuality and abortion. Those of us in the LGBTQ community and our allies would usually hear his name and cringe, thanks to all of the damage he has done to our community.
Typically, Phelps and his family could be seen holding huge signs that read: “God Hates Fags.” Phelps’ picketing of the late Matthew Shepard‘s funeral catapulted him and his organization into the national spotlight.
While I will forever hold a space of sadness for all the lives he hurt, I have to say that I am holding a space of sadness for Phelps. What an awful legacy he leaves — a legacy that now he has no chance of doing any repair. He will always be remembered as a man of hate — a reputation he worked hard to earn.
I can only hope as we reflect on his passing, that we also reflect on what it means to preach such vitriol. My experience has been that people who have the most difficulty with LGBTQ folk, are usually battling their own internalized homophobia.
Call to action: I also hope that with Phelps passing we look at institutional and structural power that works to target and disenfranchise LGBTQ people. How do we make a difference and make the lives of LGBTQ people easier? How do we enlist our allies to help us pressure those in power to create policies that create equity and equality?
I suspect there will not be many mourners of Phelps; that is quite sad. Sad because he leaves only a legacy of hate. I invite everyone to reflect: What do you want your legacy to be?
Update: March 25, 2014:
Nathan Phelps, son of the late Fred Phelps, released a rather compassionate statement regarding the passing of his father. I have included a particularly poignant excerpt from his statement:
The lessons of my father were not unique to him, nor will this be the last we hear of his words, which are echoed from pulpits as close as other churches in Topeka, Kansas, where WBC headquarters remain, and as far away as Uganda. Let’s end the support of hateful and divisive teachings describing the LGBT community as “less than,” “sinful,” or “abnormal.” Embrace the LGBT community as our equals, our true brothers and sisters, by promoting equal rights for everyone, without exception. My father was a man of action, and I implore us all to embrace that small portion of his faulty legacy by doing the same.
It is nice to see that some type of repair work is being done by Nathan.