The man who made famous the slogan “God Hates F*gs,” religious right preacher Fred Phelps, has died, according to Phelps’ son Timothy.
Phelps’ estranged son Nathan posted the news that Phelps was dying the other day on Facebook.
Phelps was, until recently, the head of his own “church,” the Westboro Baptist Church, in Topeka, Kansas.
Over the past two decades, and then some, the church, comprised mostly of extended family members of the Phelps clan, has devoted itself to vehemently opposing homosexuality by regularly picketing the funerals of people perceived to be gay or gay friendly.
In addition, the Phelps’ made a name for themselves by protesting the funeral of US military members. They would hold up signs saying God loves IEDs (the improvised explosive devices that were so deadly against our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan). Congress passed a law to stop Phelps from protesting military funerals. But the Supreme Court ruled 8-1 in favor of the Phelps’ right to freedom of speech when conducting such protests.
The Phelps’ also protested other things, like the funerals of victims of a bridge collapse in Minnesota. They protested Steve Jobs’ funeral because he donated to the effort to stop the Mormon-funded Proposition 8 effort in California (which successfully repealed the right of gays to marry in that state). The Phelps’ even protested the funeral of a nine year old girl killed in the assassination attempt against Cong. Gabbie Giffords.
Not that there weren’t some good take-downs of the Phelps’ over the years. There’s this from those wonderful Taiwanese animators:
Then there’s the time the Phelps’ made the mistake of protesting a bunch of comedians. The comedians struck back:
Interestingly, Nathan’s Facebook post reveals that his father was excommunicated from the church last year, something people were not aware of. It’s unclear why. The post also says that other family members who have left the church are not being permitted to come back for the funeral. (A number of family members left the “church,” which many call a cult, over the years.) Intolerant to the end.
Here is Nathan Phelps’ Facebook post:
I’ve learned that my father, Fred Phelps, Sr., pastor of the “God Hates F*gs” Westboro Baptist Church, was ex-communicated from the “church” back in August of 2013. He is now on the edge of death at Midland Hospice house in Topeka, Kansas.
I’m not sure how I feel about this. Terribly ironic that his devotion to his god ends this way. Destroyed by the monster he made.
I feel sad for all the hurt he’s caused so many. I feel sad for those who will lose the grandfather and father they loved. And I’m bitterly angry that my family is blocking the family members who left from seeing him, and saying their good-byes.
I’ve always been of the view that Fred Phelps helped the gay rights movement immensely. He provided the perfect encapsulation of the religious right’s hatred of gays. Sure, most of the religious right wouldn’t have the nerve to hold signs calling gays “f*gs,” but they’d think it. They wouldn’t have the nerve to damn us all to hell, but they’d think it.
In the same way the religious right is finally able to fully express its utter hatred for gays by going to Russia, Europe and Africa and helping governments there attempt to outlaw homosexuality, and more generally crush gay and trans people, Fred Phelps was the honest window into the religious right’s soul – the unfiltered expression of their bigotry and intolerance. And he helped show a lot of Americans just how hateful the religious right really is, and just how much prejudice gay people face.
Phelps also motivated an entire new generation of straight gay-rights-activists. Below is a video of students at Santa Monica High School organizing a counter-protest to Phelps’ protest of their school in 2013.
In a very real way, America is about to lose its most effective gay rights advocate.
Here are a number of photos I shot of the Phelps clan outside the Supreme Court back in March, 2013, when the court was hearing oral arguments on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and Proposition 8.