It is easy to dismiss ultra-conservative groups (“Silent Treatment,” 2/17/09) as if they were disconnected from society, but liberal “elites” often have the same problem. In a neighborhood where even our pharmacy sells bobblehead Obamas, it is easy to forget the 46 percent of America that opposes him. In a secular environment where even some of the churches accept homosexuality, it is hard to keep in mind that over 58 percent of America finds the lifestyle “morally wrong” and only 31 percent support same-sex marriage rights. Fred Phelps is more inflammatory than any other famous preacher, but that does not mean that his basic ideologies have not pervaded society. The simple facts belie such disconnected optimism.
Hate crimes are decreasing each year in all categories except for violence targeting gays, where they are rising; yet it is not even punishable as a hate crime in many states because churches much larger and more influential than the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) do not want the “gay agenda” to obtain “special rights.” Lawrence King was shot in his classroom one year ago this week. Gay teens are also harassed in non-physical ways that lead to a suicide rate four times higher than that of straight teens. The reason homosexuals are consistently discriminated against in schools and jobs is that public opinion can be slightly closer to Fred than to the liberal mania of our Walgreens. The idea that the 9/11 attacks were God’s punishment on homosexuals and feminists cannot be claimed by Phelps, but by Jerry Falwell on a talk show with Pat Robertson, who agreed with him. The idea that Katrina was a similar judgment came from leading evangelist John Hagee, who claimed that the hurricane was sent by God to punish New Orleans because there was going to be a gay pride parade in the city that week. These pastors have megachurches, universities, and political programs with huge influences. Even my pastor preached these things in the church I attended last year. The anti-gay movement is organized and real, from the “ex-gay” treatment centers across the country to the losses on the ballot in California, Florida, and Arkansas, each of which had exit polls in which anti-gay voters consistently listed “religious reasons.”
On March 9, when the WBC comes to preach a widely held intolerance (albeit in a manner that is more intolerant than other groups), I will be next to them with a projected 400 to 500 students advocating change in a society that does not accept these views. I will have petitions to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and to enact the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and the Matthew Shepard Act. It is a chance to turn a site of preaching hatred into a starting point for progress—progress which cannot be achieved through “the silent treatment,” as we should have learned in California this November.
Dan Hartsough, Class of 2012