phelps1 300x175 Associated Press:  Fred Phelps Hate May Have Advanced Gay Rights

(Wichita Eagle via Getty Images)

In Wayne’s column this week, he explained why Fred Phelps, the cult leader who may have been the Religious Right’s only honest broker, was a net positive for the gay rights movement:

In an age of relentless spin, this loathsome creature was truthful in his thoughts about what he regarded as sin. In my two decades of LGBT advocacy, he’s the only honest person I’ve ever encountered on the Religious Right. He says what many of them truly believe but are too careful and timid to say publicly. He was raw hatred in its purest, most vile form, and didn’t lie through his teeth, which often seems to be an evangelical pastime, when it comes to LGBT issues.

It may be difficult to believe, but Phelps was a net positive for the LGBT community. He was to the gay cause what police officers with snarling dogs were to the Civil Rights movement. He put an evil face on bigotry and reflected it back to the closeted haters. Upon reflection, many homophobes didn’t like what they saw. Millions of Americans were forced to look at Phelps and quietly ask themselves in private moments, “Is this me?”

The AP has a piece from David Crary and John Hanna today which explores the same ideas:

Following Phelps’ death Wednesday at age 84, some gay-rights advocates suggested that he and his church created sympathy for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and the transgendered. Religious leaders who oppose gay marriage also said the pastor’s tactics clouded the debate over such issues and put them on the defensive in discussing both policy and faith.

“The world lost someone who did a whole lot more for the LGBT community than we realize or understand,” said Cathy Renna, a longtime consultant to LGBT groups. “He has brought along allies who are horrified by the hate. So his legacy will be exactly the opposite of what he dreamed.”

Indeed, his hate seemed to motivate straight allies and others who may not have thought they had a dog in this fight. The Religious Right loathed Phelps, and they claim that there is something fundamentally different about people like Bryan Fischer and Tony Perkins, that their message is rooted in love. We would argue that the truth of the matter is that they hated him because he reflected their own bigotry back to them a little bit too clearly. The right spent a lot of time, in fact, protesting about just how different they were from Phelps:

Conservative religious leaders regularly denounced Phelps, worried that his relentless attacks would be perceived as representing the Christian case against same-sex relationships. At the 2003 annual Southern Baptist Convention, leaders spent a session drawing a distinction between their opposition to same-sex unions and Phelps’ protests.

Phelps called his church Baptist but had no ties with the Southern Baptist Convention or any other mainstream Baptist group.

“Westboro Baptist is to Baptist Christianity what the ‘Book of Mormon’ Broadway play was to the Latter-Day Saints,” said the Rev. Russell Moore, who leads the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberties Commission. “They were kind of a performance art of vitriolic hatred rather than any kind of religious organization.”

Phelps wasn’t media-friendly, and he didn’t come with a bag full of meaningless catchphrases and jargon about “protecting marriage” and being “pro-family.” He simply delivered the Religious Right message, unfiltered:  “God hates fags.” And, as we and others have said, he ended up being a net positive for the LGBT rights movement:

James Esseks, director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Project at the American Civil Liberties Union, acknowledged that he eventually saw Phelps’ protests as helping his own movement.

“He would show up with his extreme anti-gay views, and a bunch of people in the middle would think, ‘If that’s what it means to be anti-gay, I want no part of it,’” Esseks said.

Indeed. Read the whole article.