[Content Note: Death, Homophobia]
I didn’t get a chance to write about this yesterday, but Fred Phelps, the founder of the Westboro Baptist Church (that’s the “God Hates Fags” church, for anyone not familiar with its name), died on Wednesday night.
I’ve seen tweets, facebook updates, and blog posts about it. Some have been humorous. Some have been matter-of-fact. Some have been offering sympathy to his family and friends. Some have been about how LGBT people should respond to his passing. Some have speculate on what (if any) afterlife he is now facing.
To be honest, I neither mourn nor celebrate his passing. I never even met the man, and I think it’s difficult to truly mourn someone you don’t have at least some sort of personal connection with. The only connection I have to the man is his declared hatred of me and those like me. Again, this I only experienced in the most abstract of ways, or seeing how his words affected others, sometimes in horrible ways.
And truth be told, I suspect that part of Phelps’s legacy will continue past his death. I do not expect that the WBC or its campaign of hate will disband with the death of their founder. There are still enough people who have been infected with the man’s hate that will continue on without him. Perhaps in a few more years, a new name (quite possibly that of his daughter, Shirley) will become more widely known as the name associated with the WBC and their campaigns, but that’s about it.
And, as both Fannie and Peter Montgomery noted, there are people outside of the WBC whose anti-gay views and actions are just as harmful, if not more insidious. As both linked bloggers, such people have often pointed to Phelps and his cult as proof that they’re “not that bad” compared to the “real haters.” I have no doubt that particular trend will continue as well.
Fred Phelps may be dead, but his legacy of hatred is alive and well and will continue for some time yet. As someone who believes in reincarnation and believes that the cycle is about justice1, I pray that his soul returns to the earth soon and finds a way to clean up some of the mess he has produced and given root to.
1As opposed to retribution.