Editors' Note:Guest blogger Kellan Baker is a DC-based activist and graduate student studying LGBT health disparities in the US and abroad. As a board member of the DC Center, he is perversely grateful to the Westboro Baptist Church crowd for bringing in the bucks for Gays and Lesbians Opposing Violence (GLOV) to help oppose hate-motivated violence in DC.
It's that time of year again, the time when the minds of most people lightly turn to springtime, sunny weather, and sweet thoughts of love. Particularly in a diverse city like Washington, DC, love is a many-gendered, many-splendored thing - queer love, straight love, big big love, and maybe even true love.
The one love you might not have heard of is hateful love. Isn't that an oxymoron, you might ask? Well, yes and no, because while such a thing doesn't exist, there's at least one man eager to argue that it does, and he's coming to a street corner near you. So brace yourselves: while ignorance might be bliss, Fred Phelps is more than happy to take a shot at showing us all what we've been missing:
This upcoming Monday, March 30, Phelps and his clan from the Topeka-based Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) will be bringing their so-called "Love Crusade," also known as "God Hates Fags" or "God Hates America," to the DC area to picket Fairfax High School, George Mason University, several embassies, and the White House. Phelps and WBC have gained notoriety over the last fifteen years by waging a publicity war against America, which Phelps calls a modern-day Sodom and Gomorrah. WBC takes every opportunity to protest events ranging from LGBT Pride Weeks to the funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now it's our turn - and I can't wait.
On Monday, join us from 11:30 AM to 12:15 PM in front of the White House for one of the DC area's three Phelps-A-Thons. Started by Boston-based LGBT activist Chris Mason, Phelps-A-Thons are an easy way to harness the voices of hatred in support of a good cause. The way it works is simple: for every minute that they spread their hate, they'll be raising money for organizations that support LGBT rights through your pledges and the pledges of supportive friends and family members.
The event at the White House will be raising money for Gays and Lesbians Opposing Violence, a local DC group that opposes hate-based violence in all its forms, and the events at Fairfax High School and George Mason University will benefit each school's Gay-Straight Alliance and Pride Week, respectively.
If you can't be there in person at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave at 11:30 on March 30 to keep an eye on the scoreboard as the WBC crowd racks up the minutes, get some good karma by turning hatred into a positive contribution to our community. Pledge any amount that you like, from $0.01 to $1 a minute or more - every little bit helps. Pledge your support for equality at www.Phelps-A-Thon.com/whitehouse.html!
My First Time with Fred Phelps
Six years ago, the Phelps crowd took my activist virginity on a cold November Sunday in Philadelphia. I was a senior in college, immersed in papers and problem sets and the naive pleasure of being apolitical, when I heard that WBC would be bringing their nauseating brand of street theater to several local Episcopal churches in response to the election of the Reverend Gene Robinson, an openly gay man, as Bishop of New Hampshire. Whether the motivation was childhood loyalty to the Episcopal Church or a credible excuse not to spend the whole weekend in the library, I loaded a borrowed car with friends and a Hedwig soundtrack and took off just after dawn for a stately old church in West Philadelphia.
When we arrived, the sun was still low over the city and the streets were icy. A small cavalcade of minivans stood abandoned across the street from the front steps of the church, which bristled with signs denouncing anyone who can wake up in secular materialist America today without worrying, "where am I going, and why am in this hand basket?"
Seeing no counter protesters, we were preparing to jump out of the car to confront the picketers when we saw them: two men, standing shoulder to shoulder in front of the church doors, holding hands. Without signs or shouting or even an indication that they registered the venomous taunts disfiguring the quiet morning, they stood motionless as we watched from the car, awestruck, until the minivans were gone and the street was once again clear and empty.
We chased the WBC crowd through the maze of streets closed for the city's annual marathon before finally catching up with them again at a redbrick Philadelphia institution whose narrow front sidewalk was jammed with fanatics standing on American flags and waving signs warning against "fag enablers." Remembering the two lone men whose silent dignity had brought the show to an end, we claimed our small patch of ground and dug deep within ourselves for the strength to stand in the face of a cascade of vitriolic hate masquerading as God's love, and eventually we saw them off.
The WBC hasn't changed too much since then - a few more grey hairs and a handful of fewer members, but it's still the same old signs and the same old show.
Fortunately, a great deal has changed in America since that day in 2003: though we have new challenges, we also have a new President, new energy, and new hope. Phelps and his crowd are still hell-bent on raining on our parade, but we've also got new ways of fighting back.