TOPEKA, Kansas - At the age of 84, Fred Phelps passed away just before midnight on March 19, 2014 at a hospice care center in Kansas.
Phelps, a disbarred attorney, founded the Westboro Baptist Church in 1955 after parting ways with a local Baptist church he headed. He became known for his aggressive homophobic protests with the slogan "God Hates F*gs" and protesting military funerals and suicides.
While he certainly was the cause of an unimaginable amount of hatred and pain, he was the product of his times. Born on November 13, 1929 Phelps was surrounded with the notion that homosexuality was wrong, was hurtful and was contagious. During that time period, many laws were passed against homosexuals and it was considered to be a mental illness. Police forces routinely detained, arrested and imprisoned people they suspected to be gay; this continued until 2003 when the United States Supreme Court ruled in the case of Lawrence v. Texas that all state laws against homosexuality and sodomy must be struck down as unconstitutional.
Phelps was in the 70 percentile of elderly people, which oppose equal rights for homosexuals. 40 percent of middle aged Americans oppose LGBT equality while only 15 percent of Generation Y (people born from 1980 - 2002) oppose it.
Fred Phelps was wrongly indoctrinated with an image that gay people are not humans, are monsters that are going to hell. That's what he was told his entire life and that's what everyone around him believed. He lived a sad life of hatred and I consider him a victim of the times he lived in.
However, he wasn't all evil. Phelps led the civil rights movement in the 1960s to nullify Jim Crow laws in Kansas and succeeded. His law firm, Phelps Chartered Law Firm, often took up civil rights and discrimination cases for African Americans. It's unfortunate that he failed to make the connection to the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) community.
May he rest in peace and may his followers come to realize that just as skin color, sexual orientation is an innate, permanent and benign part of oneself.