The death of one of the most hate-filled anti-gay men in America should stand to usher in a new season of equality and fairness, and hopefully, a gentler time for all.
Possibly the most hated — and hate-filled — man in America died last night.
Is there irony to be found in knowing that Fred Phelps died literally hours before the first day of spring? There’s certainly a metaphor, as the decades-long, no — centuries-long — cold winter for LGBT people is clearly at an end. The death of one of the most hate-filled anti-gay men in America should stand to usher in a new season of equality and fairness, and hopefully, a gentler time for all.
But before we say goodbye, it’s important to remember who Fred Phelps was.
The founder of the Westboro Baptist Church, which liked to market itself as “God Hates Fags.”
A minister. A lawyer — disbarred in 1979 from practicing in his home state. A 1992 Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate.
Phelps and his clan picked the funeral of Matthew Shepard, the gay, 21 year-old college student who stood 5′ 4″ tall, and weighed just one hundred pounds. Shepard had been lured out of a bar by two men. He was robbed, pistol whipped, brutally beaten and tortured, and tied to a fence and left for dead until someone came by and found him in a coma eighteen hours later. (At first they thought he was a scarecrow.) Matthew died six days later.
Shepard’s funeral was a prime target for Phelps and his family. They picketed, holding signs that read, “God Hates Fags” and “Matt in Hell.”
Surprisingly, in the 1960′s, Fred Phelps worked to end racial discrimination. ”I systematically brought down the Jim Crow laws of this town,” he told Mother Jones in a 1999 interview:
Phelps sees no difference between the cause he stood for then and the one he stands for now. Today, he says, the increasing acceptance of gays in America reflects a growing immorality to which much of society is turning a blind eye, just as it once did to racial discrimination. And considering how unpopular his cause as a civil rights attorney must have been in Kansas in the early 1960s, it’s not surprising Phelps would link the two.
At this point, it’s important to think about all the other anti-gay activists, pundits, politicians, and preachers who have been equating fighting for racial equality with fighting to support discrimination against LGBT people.
And for those of you against tax-exempt status for religious institutions, here’s an uncomfortable shocker from MJ’s 1999 interview:
The IRS considers it a church, though, and that qualifies Westboro for tax breaks on “church activities,” including the $250,000 the family spends traveling to protests each year.
Yes, your tax dollars help support the Westboro Baptist Church.
LOOK: America Spends $71 Billion Annually Subsidizing Tax-Exempt Religion
A statement issued today by the Westboro Baptist Church on the passing of the Phelps patriarch notes:
God forbid, if every little soul at the Westboro Baptist Church were to die at this instant, or to turn from serving the true and living God, it would not change one thing about the judgments of God that await this deeply corrupted nation and world. That is the pinnacle of your hopes, and by far the most vain. Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, or the power of God.
The Southern Poverty Law Center writes of Phelps’ death:
Phelps, 84, and his extended family, which made up the bulk of Westboro’s congregation, spent almost a quarter of a century issuing vulgar and incredibly spiteful rhetoric against LGBT people and their supporters. The group was especially loathed for picketing the funerals of American soldiers who died in Iraq and Afghanistan, saying God was punishing a “fag-enabling” nation.
That’s not all. Phelps and his followers attacked school children killed in bus crashes, victims of crazed killers, Nobel Peace Prize laureates, schools, synagogues, and a whole host of others for supporting homosexuality, typically in the most tangential of ways. When Al Qaeda attacked the United States in 2001, Phelps’ response was to savage the murdered pilot of one of the downed airliners as “the filthy face of fag evil,” among other things. He also attacked Jews, picketing synagogues and saying Jews’ “vermin ancestors” had killed Christ.
To say Phelps and his followers were vitriolic hardly covers it. As the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has reported, the Westboro congregants were known for doing things like hissing to one little girl, as she went with her parents to see the “Nutcracker” ballet, “Did your Daddy stick his prick in your ass last night?” He told his young grandchildren at a 2001 Westboro service attended by an SPLC staffer never to “have sex with feces” or “drink semen” like “sodomite fags.”
In “Don’t Revel in Anti-Gay Preacher’s Dying, Shepard Foundation Head Says,” the executive Director of the Matthew Shepard Foundation cautioned against expressions of joy over the passing of Phelps, and says there is “no moral basis whatsoever to celebrate another human being’s suffering.”