okay i have a lot of thoughts about the westboro baptist church that i really want to get off my chest
my first experience with the wbc was in 2010. i was a sophomore in high school, not very outgoing or popular and questioning my sexuality. i joined drama club and made a lot of really cool friends, and was really pumped about it. the first play we did was The Laramie Project.
if you don’t know, The Laramie Project is a play about the murder of Matthew Shepard in 1998. matthew was an outwardly gay student at the university of wyoming who was coaxed one night from a bar by two boys his age, driven out into the middle of nowhere, then beaten and left next to a fence. he was there for eighteen hours before a bypasser discovered him and got medical help. for months, matthew was in critical condition, until finally his wounds caused his death. the play itself is made up of a series of interviews conducted by members of the tectonic theater project, who traveled to Laramie to speak with dozens of town citizens, then transposed the interviews into monologue format. the show follows matthew’s progress in the hospital as well as his murderers’ court proceedings, and is basically a super intense experience.
the play hit a lot of us hard, as many of us were openly non-straight. most of us (myself included) had never been exposed to homophobia of this degree, so it was a pretty violent shock. we adopted a practice of circling up after particularly emotional rehearsals to share our thoughts and comfort each other. it was extremely difficult to perform, but i was really excited that we were bringing a show with such a fantastic message to our school.
when tech week arrived, we received some troubling news. members of the westboro baptist church were planning on coming to our school to protest the play. what was kind of ironic was that they were actually in the play. fred phelps and his congregation had actually protested matthew’s funeral, and that was one of the scenes in the show.
it was a huge show with a lot of the roles, and almost everyone had multiple characters, so the boy who played phelps also had the part of matthew’s father. i remember him shaking every night when he delivered his sermon as phelps, horrified at what he was saying although we all kept reminding him it was just a play, just a play. after his scene as matthew’s father, during which he talks about how he accepted and loved his son so much expresses his pain over his passing, he would hurry offstage and sob, repeating over and over “No one should ever have to say that about their son. No one should have to do that.”
the final show came, and all anyone talked about was the protesters. word had gotten out about them quickly, and all that previous week, everyone in school had been buzzing about it too. the principal had had to make an announcement discouraging students from counter protesting, as that could be extremely dangerous given the church’s history. no one planned on listening to him, of course.
after the show, we went to a cast member’s house for the cast party and turned on the news to see what people were saying about the protest. apparently, none of the church members had showed up; instead, hundreds upon hundreds of counter protesters- students and concerned residents of the area- had come to the school, armed with signs such as “jesus loves everyone” and “rest in peace matthew shepard”, prepared to rebut anyone from the WBC. they speculated that the church members had likely seen the enormous resistance and decided that it wasnt worth the trouble.
although i didnt end up witnessing a physical confrontation with the church members, the episode has stuck with me since. during a time when i was becoming more educated about the world and exploring my own sexuality, it was a harsh reminder of the horrors that pervade the world. i thought it would become only a distant nightmare, but as time went on, i learned more and more about the church and the true extent of the violence and oppression i would soon face.
it’s been three and a half years, and now more than ever i am disgusted by what i have learned. i posted a status on gigapause celebrating fred phelps’ death, and two people immediately commented saying that despite what he may have done, its still disrespectful to be happy about his death. my own mother even said that to protest at his funeral would be “stooping to his level”.
that is such utter BULLSHIT.
i am so sick of this “pure equality” ideology. not every human life is worth the same. one’s worth is based not on their inherent qualities, but on their actions. so if a man spends his life spreading horrible bigotry and oppression throughout the world, not only as an independent person but as a congregation leader- teaching other people, his children included- all these disgustingly hateful world views, he does not deserve any respect in death. i don’t care that he has a family mourning for him- they’re just as grotesquely pigheaded as he was, and if i was a more optimistic person, i would hope that they would consider the pain of their loss and imagine how many million times more terrible that pain is for the families of those people whose funerals they have ruined.
that said, had the location of phelps’ funeral been disclosed, there certainly would be protestors present, and my natural instinct is to agree with them- certainly the man’s actions warranted such action. my gentler side, however, tell me that doing so would be more spiteful than anything. giving them a taste of their own medicine, so to speak, would more than likely result in the mourners’ increased hatred and potentially violence rather than remorse or sympathy. personally, i believe the best way to go about the situation is not to respond at all- to let them stew in their bigotry and give them as little power as possible. but thats just a speculation.
basically, you can feel bad for phelps and his congregation if you want, but don’t you dare tell people not to celebrate his death. he brought incredible hatred into the world, and that warrants no respect or honor.