04/17/2013 03:00 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

The Westboro Baptist Church and Michelle Shocked Help the LGBTQ Community

Last month singer Michelle Shocked unleashed an angry, anti-gay rant onstage in San Francisco. Reports state that Shocked told the crowd, "You can go on Twitter and say, 'Michelle Shocked said 'God hates fags.'" That's a bad thing, right? Ten years ago I would have said, "Yes, absolutely. What a dangerous, homophobic jerk." But now I'm not so sure. The rant was bad for her, no doubt; there's no way she'll make a comeback. But was it bad for the LGBTQ community? I don't think so anymore.

I came of age in the 1970s and '80s, surrounded by silence in regard to my sexuality. Sure, gay rights movements were underway, but unless you were an activist fighting in the public trenches or lived in the city where most out gay people seemed to live, you didn't talk much about your sexuality. I remember working at an office in the '90s and never talking about my social life as the other women arrived on Monday mornings with stories of their boyfriends and husbands. I didn't tell them that I'd spent the weekend in a Cambridge feminist bookstore, trying to figure out how to approach a cute woman (and not succeeding, by the way).

So the reaction to Michelle Shocked's hate speech was amazing to me. People walked out of her concert, and venues cancelled on her! That reaction is a gauge of how far attitudes toward the LGBTQ community have come over the last few decades. What we witnessed in reaction to her rant is as important as the Supreme Court hearing arguments related to same-sex marriage. It was an anti-bigot reaction, not an anti-queer reaction. The reaction was a litmus test of American attitudes toward homophobia.

Time recently released two alternative covers with the headline "Gay Marriage Already Won," one featuring two men kissing and the other feature two women kissing. Regardless of the Supreme Court hearings, most Americans now support gay marriage, although there is still a road ahead before we've literally "won" all our rights. Still, back in the day, it would have been unthinkable for a mainstream magazine to even mention the queer community in a positive light, never mind featuring them kissing on the cover!

Are the Westboro Baptist Church, Fred Phelps and his progeny still bad for the LGBTQ community? I used to think that he and his clan were a dangerous little mob; now I think they are bad for themselves but good for the queer community. In this day and age most Americans consider the Westboro Baptist Church a joke at best, and a sick entity at worst. In addition to blatantly hating "fags," they protest military funerals, believing that God has brought the judgement of death and war on the United States because of its leniency with queers. Additionally, they stated that God sent the shooter to kill all those children at Sandy Hook Elementary School, and they planned to protest at the funerals of those children. Wait, who is going to hell?

A man named Aaron Jackson recently bought a house that sits right across the street from the Westboro Baptist Church and painted it the colors of the rainbow flag. This is the changing face of America. So many groups are fighting back against bigots like the Westboro Baptist Church, and even your average Joe or Jane is unlikely to side with them nowadays. I'm not saying that the Westboro Baptist Church isn't a threat as they influence the misguided flock, but they were once a stronger threat. Now they appear to be in their death throes, like Neanderthals about to become extinct. "God hates fags" has started sounding so stupid to almost everyone lately. And what kind of god would send a maniac to kill beautiful children? Only a group of maniacs could believe such a thing.

I see Michelle Shocked and the Westboro Baptist Church as good things now, as they inadvertently highlight just how ridiculous it is to hate groups of people because of their sexuality or for any other reason. So rant away, Phelps clan and Michelle Shocked. You make yourselves look narrow-minded and pathetic, and you help solidify support for the LGBTQ community. Thanks for that.

But before I go, I need to mention something that sounds good but is really bad: I recently read a blog post by a woman who sees herself as level-headed, fair and rational, and who purports to try to understand "both sides" of the LGBT-community-vs.-Christian-right issue. However, after what seems like a compassionate effort to consider queer voices, she concludes that "God never made a homosexual," and that we queer people should not be writing off attempts at reparative therapy. "People can change," she says. Now, she is dangerous, because if you are one of those Americans who are unsure about same-sex marriage or whether or not queer people are OK, she sounds awfully fair and caring on the surface. She's not ranting that "God hates fags"; she is quietly pointing out that "God never created a homosexual." But she loves her gay friends, she says, and she believes in the Bible. What a conundrum! She's trying so hard to be fair. Gee, she sounds really nice!

But even this wolf in sheep's clothing is losing ground. Regardless of the debates, the Supreme Court hearings and same-sex marriage referenda, looking back at the progress over the last 40 years, I'd have to say that the LGBT community has made amazing progress in achieving acceptance, gaining rights and garnering support. We, the queer community, are here, out, alive, vibrant and loved. Sorry, Michelle. Sorry, Fred. Sorry, blogger lady. Just mind your own business, and civilization will do just fine.

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