NORMAN — Fred Phelps once told me, “I’m the best friend that homosexuals have.” In a way, he had a point. Although it is only now, almost 21 years later to the day and with the news of Phelps’ death all over the Internet, that I’d concede it.
He told me this in 1993, years before Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church went viral. In those days, they primarily used faxes to communicate with media. Phelps had just staged his first major protest in Kansas City, parading with vile hand-printed signs as the symphony performed the piano concerto of a brilliant young composer who had died of AIDS.
Up to that point, Phelps and his band of family/followers had only made a nuisance of themselves in their home base of Topeka, primarily by picketing a park to protest homosexuals who were rumored to gather there.
Phelps hadn’t yet begun attacking the funerals of fallen U.S. soldiers; it would be 17 years before the U.S. Supreme Court would hear the question of how far he could carry his harassment with constitutional protection.
There was no Patriot Guard to ride its motorcycles like the cavalry, buffering his signs of “Thank God For Dead Troops” from grieving families.
Phelps was just getting started.
“The only way we have to get the other side out is to picket,” Phelps said. “I’m the best friend that homosexuals have. I tell them the truth.” That was his full quote. The last part is a flat-out lie. Phelps believed homosexuals were worthy of death.
In our early interviews, before he’d labeled me “the reincarnated witch of Endor,” he claimed that what made God hate gay people was their inability to procreate. He, the father of 13, was only following the dictates of scripture to the letter.