Life After Westboro

This week I continue a special series looking at religion and LGBT issues.

Last week I looked in depth at Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas, widely known for its singular focus on homosexuality — “God Hates Fags” — and its practice of picketing funerals across the country. The church, designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), was founded in 1955 by Fred Phelps. Membership is made up primarily of Phelps’ large extended family. He died at age 84 in 2014 with with 13 children, 54 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

Several of Phelps family members have broken away from church or been exiled. Today’s videos tell their story. I also look at Equality House located across the street from Westboro. It began initially as a statement against the church’s hate and is now an LGBT museum.

Megan Phelps-Roper

Meghan Phelps-Roper is a granddaughter of Fred Phelps. She was saved from hate by a medium that too often these days promulgates it: social media. She tells her story in this TED Talk that was first posted in 2017.

The New Yorker carried an article in 2015 — “Unfollow” — about Phelps-Roper’s experience on Twitter when a user reached out and engaged her in a calm and respectful, yet deeply challenging, conversation. It changed her life. She describes it in this next video from the New Yorker.

Note: For reasons I can’t control, this video may start playing automatically without sound. Click the speaker icon and manually roll back to the beginning if you need to.

Last year this touching video was posted. In it, Phelps-Roper tries to explain to kids what Westboro is about, the things she did as member of the church, how it hurt people, and how she regrets it now.

Phelps-Roper is publishing a memoir titled Unfollow that will be released this November. It can be pre-ordered on Amazon or purchased now for Kindle. You can follow Phelps-Roper on Twitter.

“Not My Father’s Child”

Three of Phelps’ adult children have left the church as well, each with stories of pain and abuse they suffered at the hands of their father, Fred Phelps. A documentary is being produced entitled Not My Father’s Child, which I believe is now in post-production. There’s a Kickstarter page, a Facebook page, and a dedicated website.

The three Phelps siblings featured in the film are Mark Phelps, the 2nd of 13 children; Nate Phelps, 6th; and Dortha Bird, 11th. Mark Phelps passed away in February 2019.

This is the trailer for Not My Father’s Child.

This video introduces the three Phelps siblings and their stories.

Equality House

Aaron Jackson is a story all onto himself. According to Wikipedia, he’s a peace activist, environmentalist, has run homeless shelters in Florida, run orphanages in Haiti, led a campaign to deworm orphans in Haiti, was designated a CNN Hero in 2007, and in 2016 planted a rainbow flag in Antartica declaring it “the world’s first LGBT-friendly continent.” Wow!

Jackson was never a Westboro member, but in 2013 purchased a house across the street from Westboro Baptist Church and painted it in rainbow colors as a statement against Westboro’s homophobia. He only intended this as a short-term project of his organization, Planting Peace, but it caught on and has now become a permanent fixture in the community. Officially its name is Equality House, but he says Westboro calls it the ‘Sodomite Rainbow House.’

In this video, Dortha Bird, Phelps’ 11th child seen above, visits Equality House for the first time and meets Aaron Jackson.

CNN aired this report on Equality House in 2013.

Title image: Tony Webster, License. Photo has been cropped.

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