Letter to the Editor: Fred Phelps Motivated the Gay Rights Movement

The death of arch-homophobe, Fred Phelps — founder of the Westboro Baptist Church, deserves a brief moment of silent meditation and reflection on that man's contribution to the evolution of our struggle for equal rights and acceptance in society.

He powerfully crafted himself as the scapegoat that represents hate, bigotry and evil in our society, and hid behind the cross while doing it. His iconic God Hates Fags signs became the most visible and revolting symbols that clearly and simply encapsulated so much of what LGBTQ people have endured. God Hates Fags became our swastika. Our white hoods. Our burning cross.

Instead of turning society against us, his symbols and actions were a pivotal moment that moved society in our favor. That moment, with Matthew Shepard tortured and crucified on a wooden fence, with Phelps as the hellion on the sidelines, gleefully picketing while the family and community mourned, did more to advance the cause of LGBTQ equality than all of our marches, than all of our friends in Washington. We would not have hate crimes protections or marriage equality without Fred Phelps. For that, dear soul, I thank you.

I recall fondly the heady days when the spirit of San Francisco was thriving with our spontaneous response to the Westboro folks attempting to picket Randy Shilts' funeral. Who knew rotten eggs could give such a sense of power and solidarity. I had found my people and we weren't going to take it anymore. I recall my mid-nineties gay glee when we surreptitiously redirected the god-hates-fags website to our very own god-loves-fags. Oh, the sense of accomplishment my youngish gay self felt in those moments. I was finally standing up for myself. We were finally standing up for ourselves against the Christian bullies.

For me, I will not be picketing any funerals. I do not have time for that distraction. Instead, I will dedicate this day to honor the sacrifice of Matthew Shepard and the legacy of Fred Phelps, by working to alleviate LGBTQ suffering. Today, I am working in my office with Dr. Tom Muyunga-Mukasa, who escaped Uganda after being kidnapped, tortured and having his HIV clinic burned to the ground, to help other LGBTQ victims of state-sanctioned terror relocate to safety and acceptance in

San Francisco.

Instead of picketing Fred Phelp's funeral, let's focus our attention on stopping his modern-day successor, Scott Lively — the instigator of Uganda's "Kill The Gays" bill and President of Abiding Truth Ministries in Temecula, CA.

Brian Basinger is the Executive Director of the AIDS Housing Alliance in San Francisco

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