A Gay Man’s Tribute to Fred Phelps
My original idea for this illustration included a rough line drawing of an oft-seen photo of Fred Phelps. The intent was to depict the sheer evil of the man in pen and ink, superimposed over a collage of the disparate groups of people his hatred targeted. I scanned my drawing and began layering in images on the computer: Matthew Shepard and the iconic fence he was tied to; a scene from a production of The Laramie Project; the casket of an Iraq War veteran, draped in the American flag; paper angels representing the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting and the interlocked bikers that protected their funerals; symbols representing Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Mormons and Catholics.
As I fine-tuned the design, I hid the layer that included Phelps’ face. I looked at all of these otherwise unconnected people and realized I’d been going about this all wrong.
Phelps is gone…and what is left behind?
A young man murdered for being gay, whose death was a touch point for the modern gay rights movement. A fence that became a line never to be crossed again. A play telling the story of this boy’s life, productions of which have been performed in high schools, universities, churches and community theaters all across the country and around the world.
A community bombarded — and then bolstered — by countless images of “GOD HATES FAGS,” into a place of ever-increasing acceptance — in the work place, the military, in politics, at the marriage altar and with the families they choose to create.
A nation divided over foreign wars, yet united in support for those killed in battle to be laid to rest with dignity and in peace.
A nation mourning the slaughter of innocents, heartened by neighbors from every walk of life uniting to support the loved ones left behind.
People of faith distancing themselves from extremists, examining their own prejudices, reconsidering centuries of discrimination.
And still, children and grandchildren raised on hatred — abandoning their patriarch, yet continuing to bear his standards of homophobia, bigotry and ignorance.
So for all save the last, I say thank you to Fred Phelps. Thank you for enraging us, empowering us and uniting us. Thank you for bringing together LGBT and civil rights activists, veterans and pacifists, bikers and schoolteachers, Republicans and Democrats, atheists and believers. And thank you for not being someone my son has to grow up knowing about.
I won’t go so far as to revel in his demise, but I do wish I could have been there when Phelps finally met his maker and was informed that it is not in fact Fags that God hates, but hatred itself that He despises above all else.
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Brent, of all the post-scripts about Phelps that are out there, this one stands out for me. It’s thoughtful and evocative, and it places that man’s legacy into a perspective that is profound and uplifting. Also, thank you for sharing the creative process behind it. Fascinating stuff. Great work!
Thanks Carter. I did my best not to read too much else of what was being written. The only way I found I could have a unique perspective was to draw… and then write about that. 🙂
WOW is all I can say.
The image alone is haunting and thought provoking, but your story about the inspiration about it and the angle you took shocked me.
The world is a better place without him in it. I’m…..impressed isn’t the right word….but I guess I’m glad to see that you can find even a drop of compassion for someone who hated so many.
I haven’t been able to form any clear thoughts around how I feel about him being gone. Your words though….they hit in a solid way that I hadn’t thought about before.
Thank you for creating and sharing this!
C.C. — thank you! I’m not sure I found much compassion for him either — but perhaps a bit of silver lining from a lifelong hate-filled cloud. I had a lot of thoughts to sort through as well, but I’m glad you connected with these particular ones. 🙂
This is an amazing piece. I love how you ended it.
Brent, beautiful as always. I have wondered myself how I should feel about his passing. As a supporter of LGBT rights, I know he would have harbored hate for me. But does it justify rejoicing a man’s death? In the end, from his creator the ultimate judgement comes. He gets what his hate has sown. So I shall not sow my own seeds of hate. I’ll just keep on celebrating diversity, acceptance, and loving those who have shown nothing but love for me. No matter their preferences, colors, lifestyles, labels
This is outstanding.
Just beautiful, Brent.
Beautifully written Brent, and what a fantastic illustration to accompany the piece. Dare I hope his church falls apart now?
This is beautiful Brent.
This is beautiful…yes….the darkness led to light. Thanks Brent!
Powerful post and message Brent. I can’t thank you enough for writing this and highlighting the good that has come out of all the hate.
So very well put, said, and beautifully illustrated.
Wouldn’t it be interesting if it was this man’s life of hatred who, in the end, galvanized so many of us good people into become proactive in order to give support, love, and respect to others, not in spite of their differences, but because of them. That would be ironic.
Truly profound to bring about a message of gratitude spawned by such a hateful person. Lisa D. is a lucky girl to know you.
Wow, Brent. Great piece. Thanks for sharing!
If there is one thing Phelps and his minions gave us, it was a long, hard look at what we could allow ourselves to become if we allowed our hatred to consume us. That trigger for reflection struck me on multiple occasions, and I thank you for articulating it so eloquently here.
This is wonderful (and I’m stoked it got on HuffPost)
I teach study of religion in a Catholic school and often come across many, erm… ‘views’.
I’ve shown a number of Westboro videos and if anything good can come from them, it is the enlightenment of conversation that it has led to.
This is a superb post. I’ll be using it in class (with your kind permission of course)
[…] illustrator and all around arteest extraordinaire over at Design Nut. (The dad-antics, and often, but not always, lighter side of Brent, are chronicled, regularly, on his fathering blog, Designer Daddy.) Do […]
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[…] yet that world is growing more heterogeneous by the day, as attitudes and latitudes change and the Fred Phelps’ leave it to meet face their makers and the Donald Sterlings get caught red-tongued and, gradually, fade away? How will they identify […]
[…] yet that world is growing more heterogeneous by the day, as attitudes and latitudes change and the Fred Phelpses leave it to face their makers and the Donald Sterlings get caught red-tongued and, gradually, fade away? How will they identify […]
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