The founder of the Westboro Baptist Church, Fred Phelps Sr., died of natural causes at 84-years-old on Wednesday, March 19th. Phelps and his small Topeka, Kansas-based congregation, which is largely comprised of his own extended family members, is best known for leading repugnant anti-gay protests at public events such as funerals of AIDS victims and deceased members of the armed forces. The church was founded in the 1950’s and has been spewing nonsense for way too long. However, the coalition has gained international notoriety over the past several years as its efforts became more ruthless and, if anything, archaic in the face of a more accepting and aware American public.
It seems wrong to say that Phelps’ death isn’t some sort of landmark, yet, it would be pointless to encourage a vengeful celebration. Yes, Phelps played a major role in embedding homophobia into the fabric of our nation, but his death does not signify an end to the fight for equality; a celebration fueled by hatred would simply put us on his loathsome level. Meredith Bennett-Smith, a writer at PolicyMic, notes that, “as someone who witnessed the often bizarre and almost bloodthirsty way Americans celebrated the death of Osama bin Laden, I think the best way to recognize this man’s death is through progressive action.”
Bennet-Smith is right. The inhumane efforts of the Westboro Baptist Church, which they claim is, “God’s Work” (LOL), sparked international outrage from both liberals and conservatives. The collective aversion to this ridiculous movement, between even the most conflicting political perspectives, has effectively contributed to the increased support for the LGBTQ movement, which is awesome. While it should not have taken the Church’s incredulous propaganda and years of violent homophobia for the country to realize its own limitations on certain people’s rights, the Westboro Baptist Church has unintentionally inspired more love, even between the most disparate opinions. In a shared distaste, people all around the world united in countering the movement’s hateful and callous actions. The protests that emerged from this counter-movement have actually trumped the church’s endeavors, proving that we as a people, have the capability to affect social change for the better.
If we are going to celebrate Phelp’s death, we should be rejoicing in the fact that his actions sparked solidarity and support from the other side, which has actually succeeded in shedding light on the marginalization the LGBTQ community still continues to face. That being said, Phelps’ death must be recognized as a milestone, as we join forces to fight for freedom, equality, and acceptance.