A collective sigh was let out as the unctious Fred Phelps' death was announced this day, and I'm sure plans for an epic funeral protest are in the works to give the Westboro Baptist Church a taste of it's own medicine. I'd love to be in attendance to see the parade of drag queens lining the route and sashaying their way to his grave. But is it something to celebrate, and what can someone as vile as Phelps teach us?
There's a saying that goes something like “We should be grateful for our enemies, they keep us honest”. I agree wholeheartedly, what few enemies I still have in life have taught me well that keeping to my principles is the source of true honor. I've weathered the kind of insult and innuendo that is often reserved for rock stars, and have come out stronger for it. I'm oddly grateful for the backstabbings I've received, that sort of thing winnows out who are true friends and who are not. And it teaches you how to better evaluate people, and where to put your trusts.
So when I look at Phelps, part of me wants to thank him.
WBC managed to bring gay rights and homophobia to a national spotlight in a way that couldn't be better. They showed us real pockets of ignorance and homophobia still exist, and they shroud their ignorance in religion.
They weren't satisfied to pick on the outliers in the population, but then began to picket soldiers' funerals in some weird interpretation of war protest and believing the line soldier advocated gay and lesbian relationships. And at that point, I believe, they crossed a line that made their argument not only unpopular, but insulting to the general public. You may not support gay marriage, but by God, the troops who died in an unjust war didn't deserve that kind of disrespect.
In doing this, WBC showed the monster White middle America fed by their own silence. Now they were faced with dealing with the disgusting side of Christianity, something the Nazarean would never have tolerated. So WBC was marginalized, but I believe added to the sea-change of public opinion that has led to the general acceptance of gay marriage and normalcy of homosexuality in society, and the rejection of this kind of evil.
So Phelps and the WBC ought be thanked in a strange way for helping to kill the dinosaur of homophobia. I've often said that the GBLT community need not do much more in the way of activism – their enemies will complete the job for them. Sure, there's more work to be done, but the battle has turned and in no small measure thanks to the rabid nature of the WBC and their kin.
But I don't think they get off lightly. There should be a protest, but a dignified one. No chanting, no desecration. Just being GBLT and proud in the face of it all, but being there. Silently carrying flags or couples holding hands... I'd love it if every day there were pansies placed on his grave. By drag queens. Or married same-sex couples. Reverently, in a dignified manner. Telling him how despite his hate, they are still there and growing stronger every day, while he and his ideals rot in the ground of history. And respecting the fact that if it were not for his hatred and indecency, their battle would be longer and more difficult.
In a way Phelps helped free GBLTs from willful ignorance of mainstream America.