The first time I heard about Westboro Baptist Church and their “godhatesfags.com” site (along with “godhatesamerica.com” and several others) was my freshman year of college when I became involved in the gay-straight alliance (GSA) on campus. I was absolutely appalled that a church of any kind could base itself on such intense hatred of another group — perhaps that was my naiveté at the time.
The following year, Spectrum learned that WBC was planning on coming to Carlisle, PA, where my college was located, to protest a new GSA at the local high school. We got the whole campus together and planned to counter-protest with our own signs, holding a rally in our gymnasium as well. The threat ended up being in vain and WBC never showed. Nevertheless, the church and their preachings were on my radar, and ever since that time in 2005, I’ve become more and more upset by news of the WBC and their increasing protests — especially at military funerals.
The straw that broke the camel’s back for me in terms of figuring out the best way to deal with hate groups like WBC came this past December when they set their sights on Newtown, Connecticut. As someone who grew up in Connecticut, a mere 10 miles away from Sandy Hook Elementary School, I was hurt and angered more than ever. What could these innocent little lives have to do with the hatred WBC spreads? It made me sick.
I had written them off as a terrible problem without a solution since they operate under the Freedom of Speech. As someone who is a great advocate of the First Amendment, I cannot call for them to stop if I want my rights protected as well. Yet, when a group like WBC is literally terrorizing families of victims — whether those victims were killed during military service or by a shooter at a school — I feel like something has to be done to put a stop to their actions.
Just yesterday, I read a story on The Advocate about former WBC member, Lauren Drain, and her new memoir: Banished: Surviving My Years in the Westboro Baptist Church. Hearing about the way her family became involved in the church and the psychological abuse she suffered during her time with WBC, all I could think was the word “cult.” That’s essentially what this so-called “church” is — a different version of Jonestown, perhaps. If Fred Phelps, head of the WBC, had all of his members drink poisoned Kool-Aid in a mass suicide, would anyone be that shocked?
I hope that never happens, though, because as Lauren Drain’s story attests, there are likely more people currently involved in the WBC who have been just as brainwashed and shamed as she was. Drain recently posed for the NOH8 campaign and explained to The Advocate:
“I … did it to show people, whether or not they’re at a different church or the WBC or anything else, that people can change. People can be forgiven and communities aren’t going to hold those judgments against you forever. Even if you did or said things that were mean or cruel before, that doesn’t mean that people won’t accept you now, and know that you’ve changed as a person, that you are a good person. … That’s the general [response] that I’ve gotten with the No H8 campaign — people are very encouraging, they’re very thankful, very forgiving. And they know that I ultimately did not mean to hurt people.”
If this is how Drain feels, how many people still in the church feel the same way but cannot tear themselves away? How many more have simply been brainwashed to the point of virtually no return? Hearing Drain’s story makes me pity the members of this church — and it makes me all the more angry towards Phelps himself.
I, as well as many others I’ve spoken with, have a suspicion that Phelps’ virulent hatred of homosexuality, homosexuals and the countries that “harbor” them is the result of Phelps’ own homosexuality that he simply cannot bear to admit. Drain’s interview hints at the same:
“I think he graduated high school at, like, 17, ready to go to the military. … And then all of a sudden, he had a 360 and decided he wanted nothing to do with military. Instead, now he wanted to be a preacher at the young age of 17, and now he had this whole crusade against sexual immorality. … And it was after this event — I don’t know what happened, I can’t even say. All I know is that he said he went to West Point, then all of a sudden he had a religious experience, and now he wanted to preach against sexual immorality, preach against the military, and ever since then things have kind of progressed. … I never understood why, when [the media asked him], “Why are you so against the homosexuals? Did you have a homosexual experience? Do you have homosexual tendencies?” And he would get so mad, he would shut down. And he’d be like, “I can’t talk to this person anymore, they’re stupid.” His reaction to that was stronger than any other question you can ask him. So I always wondered that — why does he get so mad? If I’m not gay, I’ll just say I’m not gay. And I’m not going to freak out, like, “Why are you calling me gay?” I always thought that was super strange. … I don’t know what happened there, so [speculation] is all that I can leave it at. But something happened, and something made him change his mind about the military, and in turn have kind of a crusade against sexual immorality and homosexuals.”
Self-hatred of their own homosexuality has led many people in the public eye to denounce gay people and homosexual behavior before — would it really be all that shocking if Phelps was discovered to be gay or bisexual himself? If that discovery was made, would the WBC disband? Food for thought…