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Gabriel Rotello Headshot

Bikers Versus Homophobes: What's Missing From This Picture?

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Like any red-blooded American homosexual, I'm glad that the tattooed biker dudes are finally on our side. Sort of.

I'm referring to the Patriot Guard Riders, a group of bikers who travel the country protecting military funerals from the foam-at-the-mouth followers of Rev. Fred Phelps.

Phelps is the radical homophobe who pickets the funerals of gay people with signs like "God Hates Fags" and "Fags Die, God Laughs."

He recently announced that our nation has become far too cozy with gays in general, and that God is punishing us by killing our soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq. According to Phelps, the roadside IED is the deity's weapon of choice, so he and his wingnuts now disrupt military funerals with signs like "Thank God for IEDs."

Apparently, Phelps has finally rubbed the wrong people the wrong way.

Enter the Patriot Guard Riders, a group of burly bikers and veterans who follow Phelps around, surround the military funerals with a defensive ring of righteous chrome, and drown out the chants of hate with the revving of their considerable engines.

Alas, the Guards have little to say about Phelps' underlying motivation of homo-hatred. They goal, they claim, is merely two-fold: "To show our sincere respect for our fallen heroes, their families, and their communities" and "to shield the mourning family and friends from interruptions created by any protestor or group of protestors."

That's great. Really.

I just wonder where they were -- or where anyone was -- when Phelps was confining his disruptions to gays and people with AIDS.

For 15 years Fred Phelps disrupted and desecrated the funerals of hundreds of gay people, from author Randy Shilts to gay-bash victim Matthew Shepard, and there wasn't a biker in sight. Or anybody.

Sure, practically everyone claimed to be shocked...shocked!...by Fred Phelps. Even Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson took time out from blaming natural disasters and 9/11 on gays to distance themselves from someone that nutty and rude.

But during those same 15 years, Congress passed Don't Ask Don't Tell, to keep openly gay men and lesbians out of the military. It passed the Defense of Marriage Act, to prevent society from recognizing gay relationships.

During those 15 years, the government stripped funding from any HIV prevention program that "promoted homosexuality," and national leaders like Rick Santorum proudly compared homosexuality to kleptomania and bestiality.

During those 15 years even our wonderful Democratic Party fielded an out-of-touch candidate named Kerry for president, then blamed gays and same-sex marriage when he lost.

I could go on and on and on.

It's easy to despise the maniacal Phelps. The problem is, he makes it too easy. You can denounce him, drown him out, and then feel all good and compassionate about yourself, and not notice or care that his lingering stench wafts over us from sea to shining sea.

Targeting anybody's funeral is an obscenity. But there's an unbroken line that connects Phelps' flamboyant hate to the more gentle -- but also more damaging -- disdain of Congress, state legislatures, even Democratic town committees -- not to mention biker bars. And frankly, his stomach-churning demonstrations have a very limited practical effect compared to the life-altering horrors of something like Don't Ask Don't Tell.

So here's to the Patriot Guard Riders. I'm sure their hearts are in the right place. But when they confront Fred Phelps without confronting the gay-hating root of his evil, I'm afraid they're just spinning their wheels.