- You've no doubt heard that Fred Phelps, the terror of Topeka, Kansas, and patriarch of the "God Hates Fags" Westboro Baptist church, died late Wednesday night at 84.
- While Phelps came to infamy picketing the funeral of Matthew Shepard and countless other gay men, that was only the beginning of his family church's two-decade hate tour across the country, as Jay Michaelson reminds us: "they expanded their targets to include women, Jews, Barack Obama, and eventually, anyone associated with the United States itself—including dead soldiers, whose distraught relatives were mystified to find fire-breathing fundamentalists shouting at funerals."
- For the LGBT rights movement, there's no question that Phelps was, in Richard Kim's words, "a useful bigot."
- Phelps exposed the lie behind the old Christian copout, "Love the sinner, hate the sin." He said it himself: “It’s pure nonsense to say that God loves the sinner but hates the sin. He hates the sin, and he hates the sinner. He sends them to hell. Do you think he loves the people in hell?”
- Of course some, most notably the American Family Association's gay-basher-in-chief Bryan Fischer, still try to make the ridiculous argument that hating homosexuality isn't the same as hating homosexuals. Yesterday, Fischer told Slate's David Weigel this about Phelps: "He was wrong when he said that God hates homosexuals. God does not hate homosexuals. He loves them. He loves them enough to tell them the truth about their lifestyle. He loves them enough to send his son to die on the cross so they could change."
- That's now a fringe argument even on the far right, thanks in no small part to Phelps. As Peter Montgomery writes at Right Wing Watch, "Fred Phelps's decision to protest military funerals may have accomplished the most in terms of helping more Americans view anti-gay bigotry as broadly anti-American."
- Phelps's efforts had yet another unintended consequence: Westboro's vile protests helped raise countless amounts of cash for LBGT-rights and do-gooder groups across the country, who took to collecting walkathon-style pledges for every minute the Phelpses protested.
- But for the families of queer folk and military casualties who had to endure "God Hates America" and "AIDS Cures Fags" signs and chants at their loved ones' funerals, and for theTopeka officials he tried to harrass out of office, Phelps did nothing but harm. As Kim writes: "For all these people, Phelps was not just some Jerry Springer–ized cartoon. He was a very real menace."
- Given all this, it's been tough for most of us to know how to react to Phelps' passing: Celebrate? Mourn the atrocious things he did? Rise above?
- Granddaughter Megan Phelps-Roper has issued several tweets, including this: "I understand those who don't mourn his loss, but I'm thankful for those who see that 'An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.'"
- Phelps-Roper learned that lesson the hard way—the Phelps clan damned her to hell, too, when she and her sister defected from the church and apologized for their role in the hate-mongering. (If you thought your family was screwed up ...)
- There will be no Fred Phelps funeral to picket. That would have disappointed the man himself, who said in 2006 of potential protesters at his funeral, “I’d welcome it. I’d invite them.”
- Lucien Graves, leader of the Satanic Temple, does have plans for Phelps's gravesite, though: a "pink mass" designed to make Phelps "a post-mortem homosexual conversion."
- For the non-Satanists among us, the lack of a funeral is just as well. Most of Phelps's targets long ago learned the value of turning the other cheek. Thomas Witt of Equality Kansas told the Los Angeles Times: “We are asking that the LGBT community rise above all the anger we feel toward the Westboro Baptist Church and do what we’ve been asking the Phelps family do for 20 years, which is let us grieve in peace."
- Witt added: "The gay-rights movement is moving forward … and will continue to move forward now that he’s gone. Phelps leaves nothing more than an obscene footnote in history."
- Amen to that.
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