Fred Phelps, founder and long-time leader of the infamous Westboro Baptist Church (not connected to any genuine Baptist denomination) died on March 19 at the age of 84. His final months were spent in a hospice where he was in and out of lucidity according to son Nate Phelps, estranged from much of his family and excommunicated from Westboro Baptist as a result of an internal power struggle.
The news that Phelps was “in and out of lucidity” came as no surprise to most people, both gay and straight, considering that it is difficult to find any observer of this man’s activities who would consider him to have ever been sane or rational. Phelps made a long career entirely out of hating gay people and founded his “church” as an organization dedicated to the verbal abuse of the LGBT community.
Westboro Baptist, located in Topeka, Kansas, has a membership of about 100, almost entirely members of the Phelps family. The church maintains a warehouse of signs and banners displaying the most vile homophobic hatred and ready for use at their anti-gay demonstrations. Not only do church members picket gay events, they became internationally despised for their picketing of the funerals of AIDS victims and of U.S. soldiers. Their signs claimed the deceased were burning in Hell either for being gay or for defending a country that allows gay people to live. No considerations of normal decency or the feelings of the bereaved were allowed to mitigate the Phelps cult’s behavior, even extending to the funeral of Matthew Shepard.
The idea of Phelps dying separated from most of his family, insane, excommunicated from his own cult and in pain is one that many gays and others in the LGBT community cannot help but see as justice served. One young activist commented, ” Fred Phelps was evil , filled with hate and miserable and he is dead. We are happy, we have love and we’re alive. We win.”