God Hates Who?

Day 24

phelps

Today was one of the more interesting days on the trip. We woke up in Topeka, Kansas and started looking for an interview. I wanted to interview someone from the Phelps clan (www.GodHatesFags.com). The Phelps family travels all over the country picketing high school gay/straight alliance clubs, productions of the Laramie Project, soldier’s funerals, churches, court houses, and numerous other events. The family is infamous for their “God Hates Fags” message. They are all affiliated with the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC), although it is not a real Baptist church. 

WBC is the most anti-gay organization in America. They are classified as a hate-group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. No other group spreads as much hatred toward the LGBTQ community as the Phelps family. I wanted to talk to them. In addition to Driving Equality, I also organize counter-protests to the Phelps’ pickets all across the country. I run the website, Phelps-A-Thon.com, which turns Phelps’ pickets into fundraising events for gay/straight alliance and LGBT community centers. When WBC goes to a high school to protest the school’s gay/straight alliance, I organize a Phelps-A-Thon. Folks in the local community can pledge online for every minute the Phelps family protests at the school. All the funds raised go to the gay/straight alliance. The longer they picket, the more money they raise for the group they are protesting. 

I called the Westboro Baptist Church. A few minutes later, I got a call back from Shirley Phelps-Roper herself. Shirley is the new leader of the Phelps clan, since Fred has gotten old and had to step back. You may have seen her on the Tyra Banks show (check it out if you missed it). I have seen her in action at protests all over the country and have been counter-protesting the Phelps clan for the past five years. I even remember seeing Shirley there to celebrate with us at midnight on May 17th, 2004 when Cambridge became the first city to legalize same-sex marriage. 

I told Shirley that I was making a documentary about the fight for gay rights in America and that I wanted to interview her. She agreed to speak to me on camera. I had a couple of hours to prepare for the interview. Then I headed over to the Westboro Baptist Church and the Phelps family compound. I arrived at the house and rang the doorbell, not sure what to expect. Shirley’s daughter, Meghan opened the door. She was incredibly nice. In fact, the whole family was nice to me.

I was invited in to their home and allowed to set up my lights and cameras. Meghan asked if I wanted a few of the infamous signs to put in the background for the shot. I said that would be great and asked for the gayest signs they had. Shirley and I put on our mics and sat on the couch. We had an interesting conversation about…hmmm…I’m not really sure what we talked about. It was kind of confusing. She told me that god hates fags and fag enablers and America and rebels and basically everyone. She threw out a lot of bible versus and rambled a lot. We talked about almost everything. I interviewed her on camera for two hours. I will need to look at the footage to describe the conversation better. It was pretty surreal. 

After the interview, Shirley showed me around WBC headquarters. I got to see the office and get a glimpse at how organized they are. They send teams of folks to protest all over the country everyday. It is like an ongoing military operation. They showed me a small stash of the sign collection. I told them that I would love a sign and Meghan offered to give me one. I asked for a gay sign and Shirley suggested the classic, “God Hates Fags.” Perfect! I now have my very own, original “God Hates Fags” sign from Shirley Phelps-Roper herself. 

Meghan offered to show me where the signs are made. I jumped at the chance and grabbed the camera. She took me into the sign making studio, made up of computers for creating new designs, a huge printer, a laminator, and other sign making tools. It was pretty impressive. Then she showed me the sign storage garage. It was like seeing the anti-gay sign holy grail. There were thousands of the infamous WBC signs everywhere I looked. It was overwhelming. There must have been over 5000 signs. They were all organized by topic: anti-gay, anti-church, anti-politician, anti-jew, anti-school, pro-9/11, pro-shuttle disaster, pro-dead soldiers….the list goes on and on.

After the tour, I hung out in the office with Shirley and a few of the other family members. They were on the phone and computers setting up the next protests; the funeral of a doctor who performed abortions that was recently murdered. After spending some time in their home I was invited to a picket that night at the Topeka City Council meeting. I told them that I would meet them there to film the protest. It was raining hard, but they picketed in the street. I filmed them from inside the van. I spent close to five hours with the Phelps family. It was one of the craziest days of my life. 

Special thanks to Shirley and the Phelps family for raising thousands of dollars for Driving Equality and for LGBTQ youth all over America. It was kind of ironic to film my interview with Shirley using the camera that her actions helped pay for. It was like my life had come full circle, or like I had crossed the streams or something. Very weird day. 

After my time with the Phelps family we got a call from Randy, the former president of Kansas Equality Coalition. We met Randy at his apartment and interviewed him about the state of equality in Kansas. Randy told us about the hardships the LGBTQ community faces in Kansas and what progress is being made. He also shared with us his own story of the Phelps family. He grew up in Topeka and went to school with some of the Phelpses. Randy’s brother was also gay. He died from AIDS in the early 90’s. The Phelps clan protested at the funeral of Randy’s brother. It was one of the first funerals WBC picketed. Since then they have become infamous for protesting the funerals of gay men who have died from AIDS, Mathew Shepard, and now soldiers that have died in Iraq. Special thanks to Randy for sharing his story with us. 

If you like what we are doing, please make a contribution to keep us on the road. 

Below will soon be a short clip of my two hour interview with Shirley Phelps-Roper. It is 2AM and I’m at IHOP trying to upload this video and it isn’t working. I’ll try again later. Check back tomorrow night.

UPDATE: Here is just a short clip of my interview with Shirley. Below that is a clip of our interview with Randy. 

40 Responses to God Hates Who?

  1. Karen Mason says:

    Talk about interesting. Wow what an interview this might of been. Can’t wait to see this documentary more and more every day.

  2. Brian says:

    mmmmm… feces

  3. Allen Gallant says:

    Chris, I am so proud to know you and this important work you are doing. Thes people are so whacked that they don’t know that they don’t know. Keep up the good work. Allen Key West/ Provincetown

  4. Erik says:

    Wow. That made me uneasy. Usually I can sit through anything. That was actually tough to watch. She’s a lot scarier than I thought. Good interview Chris 🙂 .

  5. Kevin says:

    Sorrow and misery and death and hell!!!

    YES!

  6. amy says:

    you are a truly brave and inspired man, chris. what you are doing is wonderful, and i can’t imagine the guts it must have taken to do this interview– and do it calmly and professionally.

    by the way, it literally makes me weep to think of this woman or her family and followers being anywhere near a high school. what, spreading hate to people in general just isnt good enough anymore? now she needs to terrorize the youth of america with her fire and brimstone venom?! awful.

  7. Michelle says:

    wow! this could be the whole film. way to be composed throughout her ignorant tirades, scary scary woman. what an amazing example of our community you are bringing across the country. when i see the work you guys are doing out there all i can think of is PRIDE, hope you will find yourselves at a parade this month.
    Also, I hope you guys packed a lot of soap 🙂

  8. Karen Mason says:

    Chris, just saw your interview with Shirley Phelps-Roper. I agree with Amy what guts you have to sit on that brown couch and listen to her. A bundle of sticks??? You must have wanted to strangle her and knock some sense into her. Wow I am so proud of you for not losing your temper. You truly are a special individual.

  9. Your courage here is astounding. And her words….I have no words to express my reaction to hearing even just those 10 minutes. Thank you for taking this journey on behalf of all of us. (and how much do I want to know her reaction if/when she finds out your true purpose!).

  10. Erik Radvon says:

    “Simple Sluts”

    LOLZZZZ

  11. Very proud of you Chris, this is fascinating. By the way, I assume she knew you’re gay? I like how she kept referring to “those” people, as if she was blocking out that you were sitting there right in front of her, a real, live ‘fag.’ Keep ’em coming! 🙂

  12. I am going to guess that you had to rely on the fact you are passible in order to get the interview with her since she is so damned hateful. Great job sitting there and maintaining your calm while in the lion’s den! 🙂

  13. Matt says:

    “Obey.”

    That about sums it up – I doubt Shirley has ever asked a single meaningful question of her faith in her entire life. Some might chalk it up to just picking and choosing what out of the Book she chooses to believe – but that’s far too idealistic, and perhaps even malicious; it would imply that she deliberately knew what she was leaving aside, having read it and thought it over, with the ability to choose competently. Rather, far more dire, Shirley is the simple product of brainwashing.

    Bigotry of this sort can rarely be fought head-on, as tempting and easy as it is to try to fight back. It’s the practice of brainwashing that must instead be addressed – and that, in this day and age, is a much taller order, because it forces us *all* to ask much bigger, difficult questions of ourselves.

  14. Kyle says:

    Hahahaha! She’s completely nuts! I loved her talking about kids using filthy language, and then throwing out “dumbass” a few minutes later.

    I wish that her and Rush Limbaugh had a radio show together. The crazier they sound, the less credible their stances are. God bless WBC, lol.

  15. Paul says:

    This woman is as blind as to life as you can get. She kept saying that her children are happy and well adjusted but I will bet that if they weren’t they would be to afriad to say anything out of fear. I know I was growing up.

  16. Pamela J Avant says:

    OMG this lady is on CRACK!!! What she thinks none of these things can happen to straight people? She is wacked out of her head!!!! I love being a lesbian….I am finally happy

  17. Stephanie says:

    You handled interviewing her better than I think anyone else would. I’m surprised that her children even go to high school instead of being home schooled. She’s okay with them being educated in a place she protests? Talk about a hypocrit. Its sad that someone like her with such hate and ignorance is one of twelve children and has eleven kids of her own. She is literally breeding hate. My biggest beef with them, besides the fact that they are a bunch of hateful idiots, is when they protest funerals. I’m very thankful that states like KY don’t allow them to protest anywhere near a funeral. I can’t wait to see the rest of the interview. Thank you for all that you do for gay and lesbian rights. It enrages me to know that friends and family members of mine who are gay do not have the same rights as everyone else. Good luck in all your efforts!

  18. Dorene Stein says:

    The Southern Poverty Law Center (supporter for 10 years) is absolutely right naming WBO
    a “hate group”. We visited the Center in Montgomery, AL last month and while we there a
    staff member read a letter from an attorney who represents a “hate group”. This
    organization is suing SPLC for designating them as such. People like Shirley Phelps-Roper
    are spreading hate and FEAR. I thank God for people like you, Chris, who counter the
    hate demonstrations with love and MAKE $$ doing it! What a novel idea! I feel very sad
    for the children of Shirley who are growing up in such a toxic environment believing that
    God actually supports and condones this hate and fear which, of course, they twist as
    being God’s will. It is so very important that LGBTQ people live their truth knowing
    that a loving God made them equal in EVERY WAY to everyone else. We’re getting there;
    we need to keep moving forward and spreading the truth.

  19. Melanie RainbowFish says:

    Congradulations on your courage and self-control Chris. I didn’t watch the interview, because even as a straight ally I am sure it would make me so mad I wouldn’t be able to sleep tonight. Not good when caring for someone with stomach flu and trying not to get it!

  20. Melanie RainbowFish says:

    Congratulations on your courage and self-control Chris. I didn’t watch the interview, because even as a straight ally I am sure it would make me so mad I wouldn’t be able to sleep tonight. Not good when caring for someone with stomach flu and trying not to get it!

  21. Melanie RainbowFish says:

    Oops double post. Sorry.

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