Fred Phelps Is Dead

Over at Slate, Tyler Lopez ponders the question of how the LGBT community should handle his death:

Some have suggested picketing Phelps’ funeral, much as his church protested at thefunerals of fallen soldiers and victims of mass atrocities. But protesting his funeral—regardless of how reviled or evil he may seem—would be improper. (Not to mention expensive: Who wants to fly to Kansas for a funeral?) Instead, cheer for the unity Phelps helped provoke, and the displays of goodwill and acceptance he helped foment. Share your Westboro experiences and your make-out selfies. But let Fred Phelps Sr. exit this life quietly as the lonely, bitter, hateful man he became.

If you’re truly bent on sticking it to Westboro’s fallen founder, focus instead on the mundane battles for LGBTQ equality taking place in church congregations and courthouses across the country. While these events may lack the spectacle that Phelps commanded, they will surely change more hearts and minds. What better way to commemorate the life of America’s most famous anti-gay bigot?

Lopez is right. For all his antics and bluster, Fred Phelps was probably the least effective public homophobe in the United States. He and his cult (composed mostly, but not exclusively, of members of his family) were so over the top with their signs and protests that even the Klan thought them in bad taste. To most of us, Phelps was a bigoted clown. To his home city city of Wichita, he was an embarrassment.

If there is a place where Phelps has done lasting damage, it’s to members of his own family. It would be nice to think that with his death the Westboro cult will quickly dissolve, but his daughters have been the face of it for some time now. They’ll diligently pass down their father’s imbecilities to the youngest Phelpses, keeping the family isolated and backward for years to come. (Except for those members who successfully flee.)

Here is a documentary about the family dynamics of Westboro. (Some of the people featured here, like Meghan Phelps-Roper, have since renounced the church.)

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