Did Phelps Help the Gay Rights Fight?

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.

Most major news sites such as CNN, USA Today, and The New York Times  have reported his death objectively.

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.'”

tmservo433 of Daily Kos wrote, “His legacy of hatred and harm lie in his past.   Because of his evil, those who represent love, caring, and hope found a voice.”

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?

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2 responses to “Did Phelps Help the Gay Rights Fight?

  1. ariellamiesner

    This post was very interesting to read. I had no idea that Phelps fought for African-American rights. That really surprised me.
    I would have never seen Phelps as a help before reading the thoughts you quoted here, but I think I agree. If society hadn’t witnessed the hate of Phelps and his followers, acceptance for and knowledge of LGBTQ communities may not be what it is today.

  2. I was surprised to find these articles myself, as I had become so accustomed to automatically ignoring reports of when they were picketing a funeral or event. I would go in search of something more pleasant. The articles were insightful, however, and a way to learn that in the face of hate and intolerance, there is always a way to turn it around and transform your viewpoint toward that of love, kindness and acceptance. I learned to look at the Westboro Baptist Church with a new appreciation that it is not necessary for us to fight hate with hate. I learned to take a step back and see that their behavior has caused people to do some self-reflecting.

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