Posted by Brian Taylor Carlson
The internet and social media are flooded with news stories about the recent death of Fred Phelps Sr., founder of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan.
As can be imagined, the cascade of commentary is widely varied. Public voices wish Phelps forgiveness and peace, but also seek retribution and revenge.
Some journalists have seized this opportunity to reflect on what Fred Phelps’s death truly means to them in their tireless fight for LGBTQ rights.
Many people found Phelps and his followers to be obscene and distasteful as they picketed and sued their way across America while overstepping the boundaries of the First Amendment.
In sorting through the stories of Phelps’ death, many journalists agree that news media have helped in the fight for gay rights and equality by exhibiting Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church to the public.
Was this an unintended gift from the Phelps clan? Some believe it was.
In an article on the LGBTQNation website, Rob Watson wrote, “…but I value him. I value what he contributed to the struggle for LGBT equality. I am grateful that because of his presence, millions woke up to understand homophobia better and to confront it.”
In another article on the same site, James Esseks, director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Project at the American Civil Liberties Union said, “He would show up with his extreme anti-gay views, and a bunch of people in the middle would think, ‘If that’s what it means to be anti-gay, I want no part of it.'”
In the 1960s, Phelps was a civil rights attorney who fought passionately for the rights of African Americans. He switched from helping one group of people attain civil rights to vehemently condemning another group to be put to death.
It is unclear how and why this shift in compassion took place.
Was this a true heartfelt conviction or was it a highly calculated scheme?
Either way, his vision and plan either succeeded or backfired, depending on how you look at it.
Do you think the media’s exposure of Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church worked to bring light to the LGBTQ community’s struggle for equality?
Without this exposure, do you think that equal rights for gay people would have been as prominent of an issue in mainstream news media as well as in the public’s view?
Will Fred Phelps be remembered in history as the unintentional hero in the fight for equal rights for the LGBTQ community?