3 min

Fred Phelps stood me up

Bady steps towards freedom fighting

I was stood up again. We had made plans to meet on that ill-fated Friday night just outside the Havana Theatre on Commercial Dr.

The week leading up to the Big Night was full of anticipation and nervous energy. Would we hit it off? Would I make an ass of myself? Would I want to see him again? Would I make an impression?

The rain decided to punish the city that night. It was cold. It was dark. But nothing would keep me from my intended.

I could not anticipate the great disappointment I would feel when he didn’t show.  How could Fred Phelps do that to me?

Several weeks ago, I was among many others in this city who were perturbed to find out the Westboro Baptist Church planned to protest The Laramie Project. A dramatic representation of the slaying of Matthew Shepard, the play has been no stranger to controversy.

The WBC, led by the odious Rev Phelps and his self-righteous brood, had picketed performances throughout the US before setting their eyes on the Great North. Many of us could not just sit back and let them condemn our freedoms and values.

I arrived shortly after 5 pm at Grandview Park. Situated across the street from the theatre, the hope was to provide a peaceful demonstration to combat the shrill cries of an intolerant hate group. There had been speculation that the WBC would be turned away at the border. I hoped they wouldn’t be. A firm believer in free speech (even if what is being said is utterly ridiculous and tinged with moronic rationales and negative energy), I wanted them to make it in.

Although Phelps and his minions did not appear, the rally went ahead as planned. In a show of solidarity, queer and straight supporters came to make a statement.

On that Friday night, Fred Phelps became something of an accidental gay rights advocate. None of us would have been there if it hadn’t been for him. He brought us out that night and for that we can be thankful.

It was a wonderful excuse to bring us together. A carnival band played music as more and more people entered the park. In the drizzly night, it was difficult to make out faces under all those hoodies and umbrellas. Yet, somehow a feeling of connectedness united us.

I walked through the gathering crowd feeling an alien sense of respect, admiration and gratefulness for those in attendance.

Of course, I found it difficult to simply approach anyone out of my own social insecurities. 

I did have my reservations about attending the anti-hate rally at first. Giving any thought or attention to Fred Phelps and his warped ideals seemed like a waste of time. To give him the time of day would be to give him power. To respond to him and his group would be to validate their very existence. Why should we care what some lost souls think of the gay community?

Sifting through years of the Phelps legacy, reading interviews and watching news clips, it become harder and harder to take him seriously. There comes a point when your views become so outlandish they are hard to grasp on any level of reality.

In an interview with Tyra Banks, the Phelpses maintained their belief that all homosexuals should die. The studio audience looked as though they wanted to leap onto the panel and smack some sense into them.

In a BBC documentary called The Phelps: The Most Hated Family in America, the clan is seen picketing the funerals of American soldiers. They died, according to the WBC, because of the US’ tolerance of homosexuality.

Assembled as close to the funeral as the law would allow, they were met by a number of hostile observers. Waving banners that proclaimed “God Hates Fags” not one car drove by that didn’t have someone flip the bird at them.

It was just an example of how many —even those who don’t support gay rights —just can’t stand the WBC.

Wrestling with the issue of whether or not to show up, I eventually decided it was the thing to do. I made the right choice. My instincts are to turtle and keep a low profile; let world events unfold as they may and keep my head buried in the sand.

Attending the rally certainly didn’t transform me into a freedom fighter. Those are the people whose passion and determination organized the rally. Still, I feel I did something for the cause and for myself.

In terms of rallying against social injustice and irritating bible-thumping soul-sucking homohaters, I consider this rather small step to be my “coming out” party.

If Fred happens to call and apologize for standing me up, I might just give him another chance. I just don’t want to have my heart broken again.