Fred Phelps died this Wednesday. His death was announced to the public by members of his family and former church on Thursday.
You’re familiar with his family and former church—they’re pretty much one and the same. They’re the ones who are famous for clawing for attention for their message, such as it is, by picketing funerals and other public events with viciously anti-LGBT signs.
The passing of Phelps has been a karmic challenge to the nation and to the LGBTQ community in particular. It can difficult to find the strength of character to extend the compassion to his family that they so vocally refused to extend to others.
It can be easier, though, if we think about the fact that in an odd way, we need to be grateful that he sent his clan out to spew their bile into the world.
Other people may have tried harder to spread hate than Fred Phelps, but no one was louder or meaner about it. But—and this is key to where our gratitude should lie—Phelps turned out to be really, really bad at it.
And as hurtful and frustrating as his actions were, they have boomeranged in the LGBTQ community’s favor many times over.
Phelps and his offspring managed to be so loud, so vicious, and so obviously wrong that the number of non-relatives they have managed to draw into their church can be counted on one hand. Meanwhile, their protests of funerals—especially of military funerals—showed the world how much hate lies behind anti-gay rhetoric. There is arguably an entire generation that now associates all anti-LGBT rhetoric with a mental picture of a screeching WBC member.
Just as important, the clan’s prominent position in the media made it easier and easier for the general public to see how similar all anti-LGBT rhetoric is. It really isn’t more than a step or two from one of their church’s vile protest signs to an average public statement by more garden-variety bigots like Rick Santorum, Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, or Mike Huckabee.