Words for the recently deceased head of the Westboro Baptist Church
For most of my adult life, I have hated you.
To be clear, this was not a casual type of hatred. I didn’t hate you like I hated Uggs or Crocs. It’s not like how I hated Brynn Samp for telling everyone that I picked my nose in math. It’s not even the hatred I have for clowns (if you know either of us, this is a HUGE hatred). I hated you so much, I wished you dead on more than one occasion.
Now you are dead, and I can’t help but feel guilty. You were a person. You had a family. You were more than the hatred you spread.
This was an ironic lesson for me to learn. More than anything, my gay identity has shown me that I want to be viewed as more than my sexual orientation. I, as a person, have depth. Every time I saw you in the news, I desperately wanted to show you that I was a real person. I wanted to show you that I was worthy of more attention than a hateful picket sign. I wanted to show you that I deserved more than that. I’m so sorry for never giving you that same respect.
In your passing, I am reminded about what sets my community apart. An “island of misfit toys” thrown together for their variant identifications. No matter how different, how strange, or how disconnected, we love and support one another. I think you would have felt welcomed into this community, if you ever chose to march with us.
“But you didn’t choose to march with us,” I find myself thinking bitterly. Not only did you not march with us, you actively made our peaceful and loving marches infinitely harder. But, unlike you, I don’t believe that’s because you’re inherently evil. I believe it’s because you’re inherently a product of your circumstances. You weren’t born hating me, or people like me. Other than your genetics, you were born with tabula rasa, or a clean slate. While theoretically debatable, I like to think that you and I were born canvases, each with a small splattering of our predispositions and a lot of empty space waiting to be filled. We’re both paintings; I’m just a little bit more colorful than you.
What I need to remember, then, is that the darkness of your colors don’t make mine any less bright. Your negativity and poor attitude were hurtful, no doubt, but they cannot dim me. However, we are not opposing paintings. While your canvas is smeared with your injustices and narrow-mindedness, I like to think that we have some matching colors as well.
Beneath our religious interpretations and sexual orientations, I think I would have made you laugh. I think we would’ve talked about baseball, or golf, or whatever brought a smile to your face. I think we would have been able to get along, because underneath it all, we’re all people — and we deserve to be treated as equals.
So, Mr. Phelps (not Michael), I hope a few things for you. I hope your afterlife is filled with so much love you can hardly stand it. I hope that people do not speak ill of you for too much longer, but instead that the people you cared for are allowed to remember the good times. I hope that your funeral remains free of picketers, and that your soul becomes free from hatred. I hope that you did not go to hell, as so many wish, but instead were forgiven.
Most of all, Mr. Phelps, I hope you are afforded the peace you refused so many others.
Love is Love,
Colin Sullivan and Geneva Nemzek