It was confirmed this weekend that 84-year-old Fred Phelps, founder of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, has been placed in hospice care and may be near death. Thomas Witt, with the group Equality Kansas, says Westboro funeral protests have created a lot of anger, but he says he hopes people will not respond with the same kind of vitriol when Phelps passes away.
“We’ve spent over 20 years asking the Phelps followers to respect our privacy when we lay our loved ones to rest. I think, and my board thinks, that it would be hypocritical of us to respond in any other way,” says Witt
Fred Phelps founded Topeka’s Westboro Baptist Church in the 1950s and came to national attention in the 1990s as members of his church staged protests and picketed at funerals nationwide. Church members still protest at funerals for prominent or newsworthy cultural figures. They've drawn the most criticism and notoriety, though, for protesting at military funerals, saying military deaths are God’s punishment for the nation tolerating homosexuality.
Family members of 84-year-old Westboro Baptist Church founder Fred Phelps confirm that he’s in hospice care in Topeka and may be near death. The group is known for funeral protests that have created a lot of anger, but equality groups are asking for a different response to the revelations about Phelps’ condition. KPR’s Stephen Koranda reports.
Stephanie Mott is with the Kansas Statewide Transgender Education Project, or K-STEP. She’s a transgender woman. She has traveled the nation giving presentations on LGBT issues and often hears the same question over and over.
“When somebody finds out that I’m from Topeka, the first question they have is ‘well, how do you feel living in the same city as Westboro Baptist Church?’” says Mott.
Members of the church have drawn national attention with their protests at funerals and signs with anti-gay slurs. But equality organizations are hoping people will not respond to the news about Fred Phelps with the same level of vitriol. Mott is asking people to be respectful of the Phelps family.
“That’s what we’re asking, is for people to treat us with dignity and respect. How can we ask for that if we’re not willing to give that to other people?” says Mott.
Church members protest at military funerals because they say military deaths are god’s punishment for the nation tolerating homosexuality.