by Les Sterling
When I was a kid, I believed in the boogey man (not bogey man, as many will insist that he’s called — mine had a sinus condition.) I believed that he lived in the closet (ironic, I know…) and my only control over him was to make sure that my closet door was closed, and that Winnie The Pooh sat guard at that door on top of the shelf next to the doorknob. I never saw the boogey man, never heard him, or ever found any evidence of his existence. He was, obviously, a creation of my own 4-year-old mind – a spectre, a menace unseen. He simply did not exist. Truthfully, I can’t now recall what the fear exactly was… that he might “get me” in my sleep? Did that mean eat me? Kidnap me? Dismember me and leave parts of me strewn around Kansas City? Within a couple years, a more rational me realized that there was nothing actually to fear, that he did not exist, and that I had created him entirely from my own imagination. There was no monster, I consoled myself, as monsters did not exist.
But in 1991, when I was 18, and living in Kansas City, I saw a new sort of monster. Live, and in the flesh, a very real, bile-spewing “Christian preacher” from Topeka (merely an hour away from where I lived…) standing in the middle of the Country Club Plaza spraying a torrent of hateful invective that my young brain could hardly process. Then I saw it – the now iconic picket sign “GOD HATES FAGS!” being held by a scowling teenager. The heretofore unknown Westboro Baptist Church had taken a foray out of Topeka, Kansas, and found their way to the big city.
My heart sunk, and my stomach knotted. The taste of burnt pennies filled my mouth. There in front of me was the nascent campaign of revulsion that would haunt my adult life. As I regained focus, I could see people throwing water balloons at the preacher and his small entourage, barely missing the portable amp that projected his muddled tirade. I couldn’t understand his words, but his message was clear – he and his group hated gay people. They hated me. They hated me enough to assemble on the Plaza and shout about it.
What. The. Fuck.
When news that Westboro Baptist Church founder and patriarch of the family of hate, Fred Phelps, was near death, you could feel a seismic wave of confused feelings sweep the gay world. Should we take the high road? Wish him peace on his journey to the great beyond? Or the more obvious, and admittedly rather petty approach, to picket his funeral. After all, the signature of his hate cult was to picket the funerals of soldiers, celebrities and Matthew Shepard… all under the GOD HATES FAGS banner, and his bastardized version of Christianity that prominent Christian leaders had all denounced. Logic was not part of Fred Phelps existence. Neither was kindness or forbearance. And the Christian Bible actually demands the latter two of its adherents. But Fred and his ilk ignored the demands of the namesake of his religion, and chose to focus entirely on gay people, and what he presumed was God’s hatred for them.
As I’m writing this, I’m still struggling with what I should say. After all, I’ve known this day was coming for two decades. I’m unprepared, and a little overwhelmed. What SHOULD I say?
Or, what do I WANT to say? What I want to say is much easier: I want to say, Fuck You Fred Phelps. I hope your last days in your dementia addled brain are plagued with memories of the foul, pestilent hatred that you sowed across the globe. I hope it plays like a newsreel in your mind on an endless loop. I hope you see the faces of the mothers and families of those whose funerals you picketed over and over in your mind. I hope their pain and suffering eats away at the shard of human conscience that must still reside within you. I hope each of those memories burns like a thousand searing needles into your gut repeatedly until you draw your last breath and are eternally consigned to the fictional hell of your church’s creation. I hope your funeral is attended by the thousands and thousands who were affected by your hatred who will attend just to make sure you’re actually dead, and I hope each of them has the opportunity to spit on your corpse. I hope once you’re buried that your grave will be defiled on a regular basis, and treated as a toilet by the poor, sick and infirm. I hope history will record you as the horrible monster that you proved yourself to be. I hope the world celebrates the anniversary of your death as the day that the worst of humanity ceased to exist and a brighter tomorrow actually bloomed. I want to say that I, and thousands like me, are glad you’re dying, and we hope your death is slow and painful. And if death is slow to come, I hope that the nurses who give you painkillers are particularly stingy with the dose, and refuse to let you double down on the morphine button. I hope it hurts. I hope you die screaming.
But I won’t say that.
Instead, I’ll just say goodbye. Maybe even a flippant #byefelicia. I do hope your family can heal from the damage you’ve done to them. I hope that one day hearing the words “Westboro Baptist Church” won’t evoke sneers or laughter. I hope that the church will adopt the more admirable characteristics of Christianity – hope, charity, kindness and love.
Mostly, I’ll say, Fred, I hope you’re the last of your kind. Your kind of hatred is damaging to all of humanity. Let the world put that shame-mongering hatred in the ground with you.
Goodbye Boogey Man. You can take off that stupid hat, now.
Author Les Sterling is an artist and photographer, and serves as Creative Director for SeattleGayScene.com.