Fred Phelps is dead, and the world is better off without him.
I encountered him only once. I was a student at NYU in 2003 when the Harvey Milk School opened on Astor Place. My bus to class had to drive right down that street, between Phelps and his minions on one side, and a much larger counter protest on the other. I didn’t get to meet him in person, but something tells me he would not have liked me.
It’s funny because in a way I have a lot more respect for him than most of the other anti-gay preachers that we seem to have in abundance. The majority of the religious right tries to walk the “love the sinner, hate the sin” line. Fred called bullshit on them, and I agree. Fred sugar coated nothing. You knew what you were getting. I’ll take that any day over the slimy televangelists. They actually manage to gain real followers, and take millions per year from the sheepish faithful. Westboro alienated everyone by simply following their belief to the extreme, negating any real impact they could have had. He had conviction, I will give him that.
But to be clear, he was a grade A asshole and I am glad to no longer share the planet with him.
There has been much debate as to whether to take the higher ground or to protest his funeral as he did to so many others. Frankly I feel that we already got our revenge before he died. Fred lived to see everything he believed in fail. When he was a younger man, sodomy laws still existed in every state, gay people were as far in the closet as they could get, and marriage rights were not even a thought amongst the most radical. By the time he died, sodomy laws were gone, marriage equality has majority support and an ever expanding footprint, and gay people are out and proud everywhere from TV to the military to professional sports. Fred failed at every level. His idea of the world as it should be is dead, buried, and never coming back. He lost, and he lived long enough to know that he lost. I can think of no sweeter revenge.