I’m sending this message to you in hopes that you may send it on. I hope that as in other times a cooler mind may win out before others make a choice we, the LGBT community, won’t be able to take back. It has been reported today that Fred Phelps has died. It is safe to say that, given his attitude and his devotion to hate, those of us within, and around, the LGBT community will not mourn his end. He caused many families pain at a time when they were already hurting from the death of loved ones. However, this is his legacy, not ours.
The very post I saw his death reported also had a call to picket his funeral as he has done to so many. This was by a friend who has seen his hate, and understandably wants to exact revenge. But if the actions of his life have shown anything it is that the funeral is no place for revenge or the spirit of hate. We may not feel sorrow at his death. It may even be a day of relief. But this is the time to show why he was wrong to protest the funerals of our family.
This is the chance to show the world how we are better people. We aren’t people who make the death of a man the reason to celebrate, no matter who that man is. We are the better people. And no matter who he is to us, he was someone’s father, grandfather, brother, and uncle. We may still be fighting against them, but today they need the respect they didn’t have the capacity to give when it was us. If we act in any way other than respectful we become no better than them. In stooping to that we relinquish the right to call what they do wrong.
The spirit of retaliation against the Westboro Baptist Church has always been done with dignity and respect for the dead. This time is no different. What I would like to do is to write a letter of condolence to his family signed by as many members of the LGBT community as possible because we know how to show respect. It isn’t just that it is the last thing one would expect. It isn’t just because he did, in fact, give a face to the hate thrown on us that people couldn’t ignore. It isn’t even because it is because of him that the US military officers were forced to see the pain caused by his hate which brought a greater respect to the LGBT community. It is because we don’t have to like or respect people to see their life and know better could have come of it.
We have been the better people in this story. Now is the time to show it wasn’t just in adversity that we can show dignity. We know how to end a battle with dignity as well. My suggestion will not be the popular one. It will not derive satisfaction or vengeance, but it is the one that will show the world exactly how wrong he was for starting the church of hate.
Photo from Human Rights Campaign.