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By Josh Kilmer-Purcell

Part of the proceeds of this column will go toward establishing the Phags 4 Phelps Dephense Phund. Why? Because Pastor Fred Phelps, the most tenacious homophobe in the world today, has done more for gay Americans than most activists.

I first became aware of the Phelps clan in the mid '90s when they came to protest Atlanta's pride festival. I so admired the graphic simplicity of their neon posters depicting stick figures having anal sex that I actually tried, without luck, to purchase one of them from Phelps's website.

Soon afterward, Phelps burst onto the worldwide mass media stage when his congregants (the majority of whom are family members'currently inbreeding to make more) showed up to protest Matthew Shepard's funeral. Since then, they've repeatedly grabbed the media spotlight via actions ranging from protesting a 12-year-old's school essay about Ellen DeGeneres to rejecting an invitation to a debate in Ireland because 'leprechauns'are likely to be fags.'

In today's world, with so many different threats and causes to choose from, it's hard not to admire such dogged single-mindedness of purpose. Fred and his spawn have traveled to all 50 states and several foreign countries to spread their message of anti'stick figure anal sex. They've racked up more frequent-flier miles than most circuit party regulars. But to me, Fred will always be the down-home obsessive kook who called me a 'vile blasphemous sodomite whore' on a sunny June day in Atlanta.

Which is why I felt betrayed when my Freddie shifted his picketing focus from AIDS victims' funerals to the funerals of U.S. soldiers returning in body bags from Iraq. He seemed to be going off message. Sure, he still preached that the soldiers had died because they were fighting for a country that allowed stick figures to have anal sex, but it's a bit of a meandering chain of logic. Not like the old Fred, who'd spit directly in my face.

But I forgave him. The events of 9/11 affected people in different ways. For instance, it caused our president to see imaginary weapons of mass destruction and send thousands of American men and women to their deaths'deaths followed by funerals that could then be protested by Fred, until Congress passed and George signed the Respect for America's Fallen Heroes Act, which bans protests within 300 feet of national cemeteries during funerals. And I couldn't help but feel a little tinge of pity when Fred recently received a $10.9 million smackdown from the U.S. district court in Baltimore for inflicting emotional distress on the father of a fallen soldier.

I'm not setting up the Phelps Dephense Phund because I pity Fred. I'm doing it because I respect him more than George Bush and other like-minded homophobes in sheep's clothing.

Why? Because I would much rather have Fred Phelps be the public face of homophobia than 'tolerant' homophobes like Mitt Romney, who preaches 'respect for diversity' while recently insinuating that dead heterosexual parents would raise children better than live gay men and women.

I would much rather have Fred spewing undiluted hatred on CNN than listen to all of the front-running Democratic presidential candidates tap-dancing around gay marriage like Larry Craig on a layover. Unlike them, the only 'middle of the road' position Fred takes is the one blocking the hearse.

I would much rather have Fred's kooky daughter Shirley raging on Fox News than George Bush and Congress not being enraged by two decades of Phelps's protests at AIDS victims' funerals. (Now they decide that protesting funerals is not OK? But only those of America's fallen military heroes'no gays allowed.)

Yes, I want Fred Phelps free to walk the streets verbally assaulting stick figures having anal sex because Fred Phelps, as crazy as he is, is an honest homophobe.

By not hiding his repugnance under a bushel, Pastor Phelps is one of America's most effective gay activists. Middle America finally gets to see what homophobia actually looks like when it's stripped of such polite, compromising words as tolerance, states' rights, and activist judges. And for that we shouldbe grateful.

I believe that each time Fred Phelps gets a little airtime, a fallen AIDS hero gets his wings.

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