The Westboro Baptist Church is infamous for its picketing practices. Gay pride parades, funerals of fallen soldiers, and strangely enough San Diego’s 2010 Comic-Con, Westboro Baptist Church has protested a wide spectrum of events while spouting hateful rhetoric (including their now famous “God Hates Fags” picket signs) about the moral decline of the United States and its direct correlation with the move towards more accepting attitudes of LGBTQ people. Recently Megan Phelps-Roper and her sister Grace, two former members of the congregation, have been getting a lot of attention for having the courage to leave the church and their family behind.
The Westboro Baptist Church is an extreme example of anti-gay and hate-rhetoric. They’ve been described as a cult, encouraging praying for the death of others and asserting the attacks of 9/11 are the result of the sin of the America’s push towards tolerance. They have been the focus of several documentaries, news specials, and just general public interest. American free speech allows them the ability to spout their angry warnings of God’s punishment, it creates an interesting dynamic when many of us hold just as tightly to our own rights to free speech, but desperately want to stem the pollution that pours from the church in waves.
So what does looking at this church, an admittedly extreme case of homophobia and hate, teach us? It teaches us that hate speech, when reproduced over generations, serves as a prison. People who grow up surrounded by bigotry often internalize it and take part in it. This cycle can be far subtler when it isn’t framed with upside-down flags, and large picket signs. Homophobia and transphobia work quietly through the systems of assumption, ignorance, and misunderstanding. This is the system that we have to try to fight with knowledge, compassion, and strength.
Megan and Grace teach us that it’s possible to grow and change despite the environment. People learn and change. Given that ignorance and fear are base components of hate, education and confronting the unknown can often prove themselves to be invaluable skills. It’s up to us to take up the cause.