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Posts Tagged ‘Westboro Baptist Church’

I really wish I didn’t have to make this post, but unfortunately, I do. Unlike many folks I encounter, I have a code of ethics and morals and I believe in true equality. Many folks seem to have this hypocritical habit of supporting things like free speech and equality only when it suits them or their interests, or only when the topic in question is not too controversial or only so long as certain people they place upon pedestals don’t object. This is not the mark of a patriot, a freedom fighter, an independent or someone worthy of support. Its the mark of a coward, a hypocrite, an imbecile and folks who ought not to have the right to inhabit our country.

I don’t hate very many people or organizations, but The Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) is one fundamentalist Christian organization I do reserve a special spot in the deep, dark bottom of my cold, dead heart for. WBC is better described as a cult and its a disgusting little organization run by a deranged lunatic who appointed himself to be a preacher named Fred Phelps. The flock is comprised mostly of members of his family. I truly hate this organization, its membership, its leaders and what it stands for.

Being a gay homosexual myself, I am one of the groups of people they have targeted. So far, I have had a couple of run-ins with this organization, the most recent of which was when they came to Moore, Oklahoma and decided to picket Moore High School. Moore has alot of gay youth, as one friend of mine so politically incorrectly observed, “Moore is where all the bottoms come from.”. There is a video about the protest that I got involved in on my YouTube channel.

Now word comes that The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) is going to hear an appeal regarding a lawsuit filed against him Phelps for WBC’s activities. One fine day in 2006, Phelps decided to picket the funeral of a dead US solider in Maine with their usual vile message of hate. The family sued WBC and Phelps and was awarded the family over $11 million in damages for emotional distress. The judge reduced the award to $5 million, then a federal appeals court threw out the award all together. The family now appeals to SCOTUS to reinstate the damages.

This is an important case because we are about set a key precedent. That family deserves the money, that I will tell you. But unfortunately, if they are awarded those funds, it will come at great expense to all of us. Because the case will not just decide if they get the money, it will decide if free speech extends to funerals. While most decent people know that a funeral is no place to make a political statement, this is not about decency – of which Phelps has none – this is about freedom of speech. As we should all be aware, the right to speech in this country includes the right to speak at times when it is not socially acceptable (at a funeral) and also the right to say unintelligent, disagreeable, stupid things (as WBC does early and often). As we should also be equally aware, rights are have often been lost by taking a well-meaning step towards silencing a highly offensive message in the name of cleaning up the public forum.

Fred Phelps is an old man, soon he will be in the ground dead and no longer voicing his hatred for all. WBC has not been very successful in recruiting new members, either. When his family dies off, so to will his church and its vile message of hate. While the message Phelps and WBC have for the world is annoying and undoubtedly painful for those who have to hear it, it is not worth gutting the first Amendment over to rid ourselves of it! If we start saying that objectionable or offensive speech is not allowed at funerals, we have just set a dangerous precedent that you can bet will be promptly extended to other areas – like churches and other religious gatherings. Will it be illegal for homosexuals to protest WBC while they are in session if SCOTUS decides in favor of the family? Thats a real possibility if SCOTUS finds in favor of this family.

Many people are going to argue that funerals are off-limits and that no one has the right to come into a funeral and make a statement. In other words, SCOTUS should find in this family’s favor because the ends (stopping people from being assholes through speech at funerals) justify the means (making it illegal to be an asshole through speech at places where such conduct is prohibited by law). In one way, they are correct. Funerals are closed events and there should be a legal right to exclude undesirables. Funerals, when held on private property as they usually are, are off-limits to anyone who does not have permission of the real property owner to come onto that private property. All that is needed is for the property owner to tell the Phelps that they are not welcome and ask them to leave. If they don’t, a phone call to the police will result in an arrest for trespassing.

But if they stand beyond the property line on public property or on the property of someone who allows them to be there, then that’s fair play. Legally, there is no sound argument to be made for silencing WBC so long as they stand beyond the property line. That wont keep them from sending their message, and the best thing to do would to be to use a very large piece of property, so that the property line is far enough away that the Phelps are out of sight and out of mind. If this case is about protecting the privacy and sanctuary of funerals, this will be an adequate fix to the problem. But I suspect alot of people want to see this family win to silence the Phelps and thats not an action that should be undertaken.

I must say that in this case, I support the right of WBC to speak because it’s a right granted to all citizens of this country – even at funerals and even when the message being spoken is morally repugnant and devoid of value. I hope that SCOTUS, with its conservative makeup, makes this connection. True conservatives tend to understand these types of arguments and will see them under the Castle doctrine, so there is hope that common sense will prevail.

We must resist the temptation to take feel-good actions in extreme cases that have far-reaching consequences. Part of not being a hypocritical coward is having the courage to defend people you truely hate when their ability to remain equal is threatened. In this case, the equality of WBC and Phelps is being threatened in a manner that threatens our collective right to free speech. This I cannot and will not be a part of supporting.

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Three Cheers for Lazy, Good for Nothing People

These are the kind of blog posts that make my phone ring right after they are posted. Usually, the person calling me tells me I am alienating support, dividing the community and so on. Well, anyone who knows me a little bit knows that if I think something needs said, I’m gonna say it and I don’t really care who it pisses off. Its pretty much become my trademark. It keeps me from getting invited to alot of fancy shindigs and keeps me off a good many holiday card mailing lists. Oh well, less holiday cards means trees saved anyway.

But I am not here to be Mr. Popular. I’m not running for Man of the Year. And I haven’t been nominated for Mr. Nice Guy, the last time I checked. I am a 27-year old gay man who lives in a state where too many of its inhabitants would rather see me dead, which routinely elects officials to office who feel I am not even human and have a government that on all levels wants to deny my rights at every turn.

So it may come as a massive earth-shattering surprise to some people that I don’t quantify my existence by a measure other than how many people like me – or if Mr. High and Mighty who sits on the Board (or owns) of whatever Gay, Inc. establishment happens to be most revered at the moment – likes me or thinks I am a great guy or whatever.

Could it be that maybe, just maybe, I am the way I am because I think its whats going to get my desired results? Maybe I have a different idea about how things should be done. And since we’ve tried it their way for what, the last 2,000 or so years, maybe we could try something new and see if it works better that way? Yeah, maybe thats it.

A Kick in the Ass

The other night, I had a wonderful conversation with a man from Jackson, Mississippi. Every once in a while I have an interaction with someone who makes me think that what I do is worthwhile. That perhaps, despite the mental and emotional toll it takes on me (and yes, it is taxing) maybe what I do actually accomplishes something and is somehow worthwhile. So who is this person? Well, his name is James Paul Johnson. He is a transgendered man. He and I share a few things, one of them is the fact that we firmly believe in moving gay rights in our respective geographical areas forward. We talked extensively about the topics and ideals covered in this post.

While Mississippi and Oklahoma are hundreds of miles apart from each other, there are many commonalities. If you’re sitting in someplace like Chicago or San Francisco or New York City this post may not resonate with you that much. It might be hard to see things from my vantage point. In such areas, when something needs to be organized or gotten done, its relatively easy to make it happen. You get people together, you talk about it, make a plan of attack and put it into play. Cities built in days, mountains moved in minutes. No sweat.

STP: Same Ten People

Paul Thompson, the former co-chair of OKC Pride, Inc. did not see eye to eye with me on a great many things. He is an older man from a different time and a bygone era. But he is intelligent and while somewhat annoying at times, there are some things that he gets that few others manage to. One such thing was a philosophy he shared with me one time which he called “STP”. It stands for Same Ten People.

He was basically saying that everything that needed to be done in our area – if it got done – was done by the same ten people. It was the same ten people who sit on all the boards, make all the efforts, show up to all the meetings and by and large do everything. What we did not talk about is the fact that the STP also get very set in their ways and sometimes tend to exclude when they should include. For obvious reasons, this is undesirable when you are trying to advocate for civil rights. Because ten people simply cannot do it all. It takes far more than ten, or twenty or fifty or a hundred folks. It takes everyone, working together at the same time and from the same page to make some things happen.

The Sarah Palin Connection

So I recently decided to picket Sarah Palin’s book signing in Norman. I did it not because I disagree with her right to sell her book or even out of a personal hatred for her. I do not like the woman, that much I do admit. I did it because I know she is getting ready to run for the White House in 2012 and I don’t want to see that. Her views on homosexuality offend me and I have every confidence that she would use her office to represent her right-wing wacko constituents exclusively.

Almost immediately, I start getting messages and phone calls and “encouragement” from folks to not do this event. I was informed that “the community” (whoever the fuck that is – oh I’ll get to this little gem in a minute) had decided that it would be best if we did not respond to Palin and give her attention. Some Democrats want to let her think she has a clear shot at the oval office so that she runs and loses, allowing a re-election of Barack Obama to be a slam dunk. They are afraid that my little rally may discourage her from running.

I’m not going to get into whether or not another four years of Obama would be a good thing or a bad thing here. But what I am going to ask is this: so fucking what? Sarah Palin is a snake in the grass. She is a terrible person with terrible morals. She is a homophobe and she has shown by her speech and actions that she is incapable of representing all of her constituents fairly and equally. Its imperative that every elected official represent all of their constituents – yes, even the ones who are gay – equally. I don’t want her in my White House and I think I have good reason not to.

The bottom line is that these are my civil rights that they either want to play political football with or are too lazy to defend, depending on whether we are talking about the do nothing and good for nothing crowd or the let Obama have a cake walk crowd. Its inappropriate and its insulting to think that I should just sit down, shut up and go along with it. Rather than support me in potentially sparing our nation from having a Sally Kern clone in the White House, they’d rather shout me down.

Déjà Vu

Of course, this would not be the first time I have had to deal with headaches created by those who should be helping organize rather than being an obstruction. My very first experiences with rocking the boat in Oklahoma City gay politics was when I heard that the creeps at Westboro Baptist Church were going to picket Moore High School. I started calling around to see who was going to counter-protest and I was shocked to hear that there was no protest, it had been decided it would be best to ignore WBC and not give them attention.

Well, thankfully the order to stay home – which was originally issued by people connected to Cimmaron Alliance Foundation on information and belief – was ignored and there was a HUGE counter protest. While my video does not do it justice, there were about 2,000 people there from all walks of life to condemn it. I was elated. I talked to all of the media there – including the state newspaper – The Daily Oklahoman. Which is why I was shocked that there was no coverage in the Daily Oklahoman about the issue. Not a single item. The rest of the media was silent on the subject as well. I attributed that to the fact that its a bigot-owned newspaper and at an Oklahoma Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus (OGLPC) meeting I was at, I brought this up and demanded that we as a group write a letter chastising the Oklahoman for not covering what was obviously a newsworthy event. OGLPC voted to approve the letter and send it.

When it wasn’t printed as well, I started asking around. I found out that the chair of that organization – Paul Thompson, ordered the Secretary – Victor Gorin (who is a reporter for Metro Star – the regional gay newspaper) – not to send the letter. The reason? Because The Daily Oklahoman was in on the media blackout with the Cimmaron Alliance assholes and they didn’t want to upset the apple cart. I was livid and resigned my membership in that organization, but not before I had choice words for all involved. Victor and I are still friends as I realize he was in a tough position and made a call to follow an order from a chair and he did report his actions voluntarily so its not like he was hiding it.

Shortly after the Moore High School diabolical, I decided it was time for some changes to be made at OKC Pride, Inc. To make a long story short (you can read the only version of the story over on Gossip Boy – here, here, here, here, here and here.), I found myself being cannibalized by my own gay community and hung out to dry. I eventually resigned that organization as well and wrote it off its prospects for reform and being made useful as hopeless.

The point is this: where I come from, silence is consent. This is a principle of parliamentary law and I believe in it. It means that if you see something going on around you and you don’t speak up in oppositions, then you are deemed to be content with whats going on. Its a fair assumption to make. If you allow something to take place with your knowledge and you say nothing, then you may as well be apart of doing it yourself.

Well, there are some things I wont be a party to. Knowingly undermining gay rights is one of them.

I’ve Wanted to Run Away

At the time the Pride diabolical happened, I wanted to run away. I was scared, hurt and angry all at the same time. I seriously considered moving out of state and changing my name as well as a variety of other cowardly options. Thankfully, I did none of the above. I am a fighter and I don’t give up. I am not used to not having my way and I see no point being a quitter now. As I look back on that incident, I have decided that what does not kill me will make me stronger. I am more effective, more efficient and more useful to myself, others and my causes because of what I have been through.

Lets Clear This Up Right Now

In Oklahoma City, Oklahoma: there is no gay community. There never has been, there isn’t now and its fair to wonder if there ever will be. What we have instead are hundreds and maybe even thousands of gay people who refuse to do anything for their community that does not involve drinking alcohol. Its hard to get more than a handful to agree on anything and even harder to get more than the STP to show up to a meeting. Regardless of who the cause is or who called the meeting. One of the most respected leaders of this community once remarked to me how hard it was to get folks out even to meetings that are called by this person.

If Richard Ogden (he is the head of Cimmaron Alliance – which I have nothing but contempt for) came to me today and said “Keith, lets change the condition of things here. Real change. No buddies, no holds barred, lets make it happen.” my response would be “Richard, where do I sign on?”. But thats not the way it is here. There are a good number of folks here who simply wont work together no matter what the cause is because of petty disagreements and personal opinions.

Until we get people who are willing to work together for common goals and learn the art of compromise, then we don’t have a gay community. We have a bunch of gay folks who happen to leave somewhat close to each other who meet for drinks. Thats a drinking club, dinner club or social club. Its not a community by any stretch.

If You Don’t Want to Get Involved

If you are one of those people who never wants to get involved but always wants to complain, I’ve got two words for you: fuck you. Stay home. Bitch from your easy chair. Send messages to your friends and encourage them to take your non-researched position on the issue. Do whatever it is that you do that has not done a single god-damned thing for anyone, anywhere at anytime. While you are being a useless bump on a log, I will be out fighting for my rights and by extension yours too.

Quite frankly, I am tired to the traditional Gay, Inc. approach of slow and steady with my civil rights. I want them now, I want them all and I am willing to fight for them right here and right now. I personally don’t want to get married right now, hell, I don’t even have a boyfriend right now. But I would like to have that opinion open to me in the future should I wish to. So gay marriage is an issue that I am concerned about and I feel entitled to comment and take a position on it, which I have done in previous notes.

Yes, you bet I am young, dumb and full of hell fire. I’m impatient and I am demanding. People who wait for good things to come to them will likely be waiting a while. We make our own luck in life. If you’re not actively looking out for your interests, how can you expect others to do so?

I’m Not Always Right – I’ll Listen to Others

Lets be clear, I’m not always right. Not by a long shot. But at least I am doing something to try and make my corner of the world better. Even if its the wrong thing. And I’d rather do the wrong thing than do nothing at all.

Another important note to make is the fact that I will listen to opinions expressed by other folks who also put themselves out there. People like Brittany Novotny, who constantly give of themselves personally, professionally and politically to try and change. I wont always agree with their decision or position, but I will respect them for it and you can bet that when they have something to say about something I am doing, I am going to find the time to listen and carefully consider what they say.

The Bottom Line

I’m going to hold my events and I’m not going away anytime soon. And even if I do go to Boston as discussed, I’ll still be here on a regular basis. If you aren’t out there trying to make a contribution to our struggle, don’t come and yell at me about how I am doing it all wrong. If you have constructive criticism, then please offer it – constructively. If you want to help, then by all means get involved. If you don’t know how to help, then ask. If you respectfully disagree, then do so respectfully. But if you just want to bitch and moan, call someone who cares.

Because we as a species need to get our act together. Right here and right now.

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