A former member of the Westboro Baptist Church who recently published a book about leaving the hate-mongering group has also revealed that founder Fred Phelps's anti-gay ideology may have spawned from a gay experience.
Lauren Drain, 27, was a member of the Topeka, Kan., congregation until she challenged the group's beliefs and had to leave. She sat down this week with the Advocate to discuss her book and her journey from follower to free.
Drain suggested to the Advocate that founder Fred Phelps might have formed the Westboro Baptist Church and begun his anti-gay crusade because of a gay experience. He was a Boy Scout who graduated with honors and was headed for the military, she said. Then, at 17, Phelps changed his mind and was suddenly set on becoming a preacher to fight against "sexual immorality."
Via the Advocate:
I never understood why, when [the media asked him], “Why are you so against the homosexuals? Did you have a homosexual experience? Do you have homosexual tendencies?” And he would get so mad, he would shut down. And he’d be like, “I can’t talk to this person anymore, they’re stupid.” His reaction to that was stronger than any other question you can ask him. So I always wondered that — why does he get so mad? If I’m not gay, I’ll just say I’m not gay. And I’m not going to freak out, like, “Why are you calling me gay?” I always thought that was super strange. … I don’t know what happened there, so [speculation] is all that I can leave it at. But something happened, and something made him change his mind about the military, and in turn have kind of a crusade against sexual immorality and homosexuals.
Not only did she leave Westboro, but Drain also has become an advocate for gay rights and anti-bullying. In February, she posed for the NOH8 campaign, a movement that promotes equality.
"I don't think anyone should judge or persecute another human being or any group of individuals based off of those personal, chosen, beliefs," she told NOH8. "I am against any and all forms of violence, discrimination, bullying or bigotry directed at someone else due to their personal lifestyle."
March 5 saw the release of Drain's book, Banished: Surviving My Years in the Westboro Baptist Church, in which she describes how she grew up with Westboro during her formative years, after her father developed an obsession with the group and moved his family from Florida to Kansas.
During a reddit "Ask Me Anything" session last month, one commentator asked Drain, "Do you think Fred Phelps is gay? If not, how do you explain his extreme interest in homosexuality?" She didn't answer the question at the time, but she did say Phelps has managed to brainwash his followers so much that they believe the hate just as staunchly as he does.
"I don't think Fred Phelps becoming incapable would be the reason the church would collapse," she said when asked if Westboro may crumble after the 83-year-old dies. "I tend to think it is disintegrating as more and more members question things and get kicked out or leave. The brainwashing is so deep that the second and third generation believe just a strongly as the Pastor himself."
Related on HuffPost:
Honoring America's Veterans Act
In August, President Barack Obama <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/06/honoring-americas-veterans-act-obama_n_1748454.html">signed the Honoring America's Veterans Act</a>, dealing an indirect blow to Westboro Baptist Church by declaring that protests at military funerals -- a favorite tool of the congregation -- must be at least 300 feet away. The law also says such demonstrations are prohibited two hours before or after a service.
White House Petition
In late December, petitioners flooded the White House "We the People" website, calling for Westboro to be officially recognized as a hate group and to have the church's tax-exempt status revoked. One petition became the site's <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/26/white-house-petition-westboro_n_2365799.html">most popular ever</a>, surging past 270,000 signatures. In total, the petitions against the congregation <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/12/27/us-usa-guns-westboro-idUSBRE8BQ0IE20121227">drew close to 500,000 signatures</a>.
California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/18/westboro-jerry-brown_n_1893849.html">signed a bill</a> in January echoing the federal law signed earlier by President Barack Obama. It established a 300-foot buffer zone around military funerals, where demonstrations are prohibited.
Westboro protesters <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/29/westboro-baptist-church_n_1717142.html">were outnumbered</a> by a zombie-themed counter-protest in July, when members of the church sought to organize picketing at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in DuPont, Wash. About 300 counter-protesters were there. Westboro demonstrators numbered eight.
In July, thousands of people in red shirts <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/22/westboro-baptist-church_n_1693548.html?1343597714">formed a "human wall"</a> around a Columbia, Mo., church to block a small Westboro group from protesting the funeral of 21-year-old Army Specialist Sterling Wyatt. Wyatt was killed in Afghanistan earlier in July.
In July, a large group of Texas A&M students <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/06/texas-am-students_n_1653002.html">formed a "maroon wall"</a> to block Westboro protesters from getting near the funeral service of Lt. Col. Roy Tisdale, an alumnus of the school killed on a U.S. military base in June.
In December, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/17/westboro-baptist-church-hacked-anonymous-protest-newtown-shooting-victims-funerals_n_2315070.html">hacktivist group Anonymous targeted Westboro Baptist Church</a> after the congregation announced plans to picket the funerals of victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. Hackers from the group later posted personal information about members of the church and hacked the Twitter accounts of some of Westboro's most vocal leaders. Anonymous also announced that it had successfully taken down the church website for some period of time.
Nine-Year-Old Josef Miles
HuffPost Good News <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/15/westboro-baptist-church_n_1518901.html">reported in May</a>: <blockquote>Nine-year-old Josef Miles and his mother, Patty Akrouche, were walking around the Washburn University campus in Topeka, Kan., on Saturday when they saw a group of Westboro Baptist Church protesters armed with signs. The church is infamous for using pickets with phrases like "God hates fags" and "Thank God for dead soldiers." After reading some of the signs on display, Akrouche said that Miles asked her if he could create one of his own. Using a small sketch pad, he wrote out his message in pencil and held it out while he stood across from the picket line. "GOD HATES NO ONE," he wrote.</blockquote> For pictures of Miles' demonstration, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/15/westboro-baptist-church_n_1518901.html?utm_hp_ref=westboro-baptist-church">click over to HuffPost Good News</a>.
In December, a group of motorcyclists responded to news that Westboro members were planning to picket the funeral of Sandy Hook Elementary School principal Dawn Hochsprung by <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/19/westboro-baptist-church-protest-newtown-victim-funeral-_n_2331880.html">assembling outside the church</a> to block them from getting near the service. Westboro members reportedly backed down after the bikers established a large presence.
Firefighters And Police Officers
TheBravest, a website dedicated to all things Fire Department of New York, <a href="http://www.thebravest.com/standthewall.html">sent out a call to action</a> in late December, urging firefighters and police officers to travel to Newtown to counter potential moves by Westboro to disrupt funeral services of Sandy Hook victims.
In October, a spirited group of counter-protesters <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/15/westboro-baptist-church-video_n_1967661.html">attempted to beat back Westboro followers</a>, who were demonstrating against a service to honor 29-year-old Staff Sgt. Donna Johnson, a gay soldier killed in a suicide bomb attack in Afghanistan. One counter-protester took the "beat back" literally, bull-rushing a Westboro congregant.
A group called Angel Action <a href="https://www.facebook.com/events/398024316947100/">organized a counter-Westboro demonstration</a> gave attendees 10-foot sets of angel wings that would shield funeral demonstrations from the displays of the church.