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Location: Kansas City, Missouri, United States

Doing my part to irritate Republicans, fundamentalists, bigots and other lower life forms.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Helping Fred celebrate half a century of hate

A milestone passed on Sunday and none of the mainstream media picked up on it. Neither were their proclamations signed nor speeches made by politicians to commemorate the event. Yet the LGBT community should mark the passing of this event because their lives and issues are intricately entwined with it.

Fred Phelps, everyone's favorite posterboy for homophobia, marked the 50th anniversary of "preachin' the gospel" at his Westboro Baptist Church in Topkea, Kan.

Fearing the milestone would pass unnoticed, Fred sent out his own self-congratulatory flyer of his goldern anniversary as a hatemonger who wraps his hatred in a perverted version of Christianity. Just how perverted his "religion" is becomes evident when you see just how hard the rest of the radical religious reich like Jerry Falwell, James Dobson, and Pat Robertson work to distance themselves from the likes of Fred and his tiny congregation of mostly family members.

Phelps is so far out there on the far-flung fringes of extremism that the head of the Illnois Family Institute denounced him earlier this year and suggested Fred had been "planted" among the religious reich to gain sympathy for all those homo-seck-shuls he claims God hates.

Living less than an hour down thr road from Phelps' stomping grounds, I was aware of him and his little in-bred clan long before he burst onto the national scene. Fred started on a small scale picketing in the Topeka area to draw attention to all the "fag sodomy" occurring across the street from his little compound in Gage Park. This was during the '80s and Fred was able to latch on the coattails of the AIDS epidemic to spread his message. It wasn't long before he began picketing the funerals of persons who had died of AIDS.

Apparently those evil fags in Topeka weren't dying in sufficient numbers to suit him. Fred began exporting his pickets to other cities around the area, including Kansas City. At first he was a novelty. Then the novelty wore off and the local media began ignoring him. With every snub from the media, Fred stove for controversy on an even larger scale and soon landed an interview on ABC News' "20/20" where then host Hugh Downs prefaced the piece by calling Phelps "one of the most outrageous characters we've ever featured."

Give a media whore some attention and he's going to want more. One stunt lead to another and another as he tried to remain in the media spotlight with a determination the surpassed even Madonna's. He picketed Matthew Shepard's funeral. He picketed the funeral of Fred Rogers or "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood" children's TV fame. He picketed the funeral of Bill Clinton's mother. Lately he's even started picketing the funerals of U.S. soliders killed in Iraq, claiming that soliders are dying because America has become a "fag nation" and is facing God's wrath for its tolerance of homo-seck-shuls.

So why celebrate when Fred and marks his golden anniversary of spreading hate?

Simple. For better or worse (and with Phelps, it's usually worse), Fred makes it easier for us to win more straight allies. Just like the line in Frank Caprs's "It's a Wonderful Life," about how "every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings," every time Fred shows up with his "God Hates Fags" and "Fags Burn in Hell" signs, a few more straight allies are born.

Consider what happened here in Kansas City. Back in '87 after years of hard work behind the scene by LGBT groups, the city council was finally going to consider an ordinance adding sexual orientation to its non-discrimination law. Here in the Midwest, such laws were rare. While activists hoped and believed they had just enough votes to get the ordinance passed, Fred began showing up with his pickets around town. Suddenly city council members who were on the fence about gay rights issues came face to face with homophobia. Not the "polite" sort of homophobia that gets expressed in telling fag jokes in the tennis club locker room, but the rabid, unbridled version of homophobia. They were shocked. Then they got pissed. Then the ordinance passed unanimously.

Thank you, Fred Phelps. Bless you and your little pointed head.

Now wherever Fred and his merry band of cretins go, they may bring homophobia, but they also manage to sprinkle a bit of outrage in their wake like pixie dust.

While Fred is getting up in years and in poor health (rumors continue to float around that Fred is suffering from Parkinsons disease), have no fear because future generations of Phelps spawn stand ready to take up the challenge once Fred has suffled off his mortal coil. There's Phelps' daughter, Shirley Phelps-Roper, who has become the designated spokesbigot for the church in recent years. And don't forget Phelps' grandson, Benjamin (Bend-Over Benji) Phelps, who is the "genius" behind the and web sites. Plus, there are all those darling little tykes running around wearing God Hates Fags t-shirts and holding picket signs depecting stick figures about to engage in sodomy, so future generations of homophobes are ensured.

Buffoons that they are, the Phelps clan is likely to be around for a while. And while they are around, we can continue to welcome our new allies who have been won over by their homophobic antics.