CHICAGO — Truth Wins Out today noted the death of notorious hate group leader Fred Phelps, former head of the Westboro Baptist Church based in Topeka, Kansas. Phelps and his family were famously reviled for protesting gay pride parades, soldiers’ funerals, concerts and any other events where they could spread their vitriol. Fred Phelps was shunned by many on the Religious Right, and even accused of being a pro-gay plant designed to make them look bad, because he delivered the message of the Religious Right without euphemisms.
“Fred was a net positive for the LGBT community,” said Truth Wins Out Executive Director Wayne Besen, who once referred to Phelps as a “walking hate crime.” “The organized Religious Right despised him. They would spend big money to concoct elaborate schemes that tried to make raw hate appear to be love. Then Fred would come along and foil their careful plans with a ‘God Hates Fags sign.’”
Fred Phelps’ slogan continues to be the primary message of groups like the American Family Association, Family Research Council and lesser entities like Americans For Truth and Mission America, distilled into its simplest form. Indeed, Phelps’ fundamental honesty exposed the true face of anti-gay hatred in America.
“Fred was a loathsome creature,” said TWO’s Besen. “But I’ll say one nice thing about him: He’s the only honest person on the Religious Right I’ve ever met. He says what many of them truly believe but are too careful to say publicly.”
In 2011, the Phelps family won a case, Snyder v. Phelps, in the United States Supreme Court. The family of a fallen soldier whose funeral the family protested sued Phelps and two of his daughters for “defamation, intrusion upon seclusion, publicity given to private life, intentional infliction of emotional distress and civil conspiracy.” Though damages were awarded to the Snyders by lower courts, the Supreme Court ultimately found that the Phelps’ protests were covered under the First Amendment, a ruling that, though the subject matter was grotesque, educated many about the strength of First Amendment protections in the United States.
Toward the end of his life, Fred Phelps was excommunicated from the church he founded. The family has stated that the church will continue on, though Phelps won’t be around to see his life’s work fully undone before his eyes. Truth Wins Out believes that, rather than emulating the behavior of Fred and his clan over the years, the LGBT community would be best served to mark his passing as the end of an era and let him go in peace while we redouble our efforts to continue the fight for equality at home and for our LGBT brothers and sisters abroad, millions of whom live in places that become harsher and more dangerous for them every year.
“Fred Phelps showed little grace to people and families during his life,” said TWO Associate Director Evan Hurst. “When full equality has been achieved, his legacy will be little more than a footnote from a bygone era of anti-LGBT discrimination. Instead of stomping on his grave, we should simply note his absence and move on, ever striving to fight for love, justice, fairness and equality for all Americans.”
Truth Wins Out (TWO) is a non-profit organization that works to demolish the very foundation of anti-gay prejudice. Our philosophy is simple: We attack the underpinnings of homophobia by debunking harmful lies, discrediting hateful myths, and countering anti-gay organizations. By chipping away at the underlying ignorance that fuels anti-LGBT attitudes, we can ultimately win our fight for fairness and achieve full equality for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people worldwide.