The third annual Million “Fag” March goes down tomorrow at Gage Park in Topeka, Kansas, near the home of Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church (famed keepers of the URL GodHatesFags.com). The March protests the hateful anti-gay protests of the church and features Phelps’ estranged son Nate as the keynote speaker. And that’s great and all. Except for two things. One, the “million” fags will realistically be about 500 people and two, those 500 folks will never be as fun to watch or consistently on message as the WBC.
I’m not sure why the event’s organizers put the word fag in scare quotes. After all, the WBC has been throwing that word in our face for years, so why not own it and throw it right back in their faces? Putting it in quotes says, “No, we’re not the fags they say we are, we’re decent actual people.” And therein lies the problem.
The Westboro Baptist Church isn’t made up of people so much as over-zealous ideologues who gleefully protest military funerals, chanting excitedly in favor of improvised explosive devices that are God’s punishment for American tolerance of homosexuals. They happily count up the days that “AIDS FAGGOT” Matthew Shepard has been burning in hell. Their placards are as easy to read as day-glo signs for a supermarket specials. And on our side? Rainbow-colored signs about love and acceptance. BO-RING.
No matter how you feel about Westboro’s hateful message, at least they understand the theatricality of protest. They took the shock aesthetic of ACT UP and mocked it up in their own way. Just look at CNN’s coverage of last year’s Million “Fag” March and you’ll see the difference. The WBC knows outrageousness gets press, even from gay blogs, and even though they’re known as a fringe organization of crazies, there’s no demonstrators as exciting or controversial on our side. And there should be.
It could be that the LGBT community at large has always been skittish about diving right into religious issues because of those “7 Deadly Verses” which call homosex an abomination. Both the gay Soulforce and the HRC’s Religion Project lean right, and Lambda Legal refuses to jump in the ring to bridge communities of faith and fags, so it’s likely our inexperience makes us unable to meet religious zealots on their own level. But Westboro has a lot to teach us.
Imagine signs like “HELL IS FOR HATE”, “GOD DAMNS THE WBC”, and “PHELPS IS A SPOUSE-ABUSING DRUNK” with Phelps’ head covered in vomit and blood. Imagine shocking pink signs that reference pro-gay bible verses instead of the usual run of gentle signs imploring peace, love, and equality, and you’ll get an idea of what we need.
The WBC is a firestorm and we’ve only brought water guns.