Before Fred Phelps got famous for picketing Matthew Shepard’s Funeral he used to go to LA Gay Pride and other Gay Pride parades. At SF’s he could be ignored because the streets the parade goes down are very wide and the crowd is fairly far away from the people marching in the parade. That isn’t so in LA.
The Christopher St AKA LA Gay Pride goes down Santa Monica Blvd starting at Crescent Heights which is very wide but then the street turns and has wide meridian that the Big Red Cars used to go down and now is sort of a mini park going down the middle of the street and all of a sudden the marchers are forced into marching in a 2 lane road with no buffer between the marchers and the watchers. Mr. Phelps planted his group on the curve and he was less than 3 feet away from anyone marching in the parade.
You went from a high of joy at the beautiful day and being surrounded by loving happy people to being confronted with the group dressed in black and screaming in hate at you. It felt like being shot with hate. They had huge towering signs that went above the crowd and were almost all men. At least it was the angry men I noticed. Their faces contorted in hateful expressions and you could only wilt inside at the hate being directed at you after being in a state of joy and fun. It hurt and it made us angry because no one there had done anything to these hateful people and yet there they were attacking everyone for simply loving people who looked like us.
They showed up year after year and after a few parades the sheriff’s office started to step in to protect us from them. They even brought the mounted horse patrols to fence them in which only angered Phelps all the more. They would taunt calling people “faggot” and “dyke” and yelling that God hated us and other unoriginal slogans. We also started turning our backs if the parade happened to stop for a moment before them to try and get them to give up and quit.
One year they even grouped all the religious groups together since those were the groups that got Phelps really riled up. Groups like Dignity and the UUs and Metropolitan Community Church made them go ballistic. That year I was marching with a friends in a group right behind them. (They hated the Gay & Lesbian Scientists almost as much as the religious groups) and we were supposed to go by them quickly and quietly and in the way of parades we got halted right in front of them about 3 feet away. Way too close for comfort.
So someone started to sing quietly, we sang a song from my Sunday School days, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so. Little ones to him belong, They are weak but he is strong, Yes, Jesus loves ,
me, Yes, Jesus loves, Yes, Jesus loves, the Bible tells me so.”
We sang quietly and I may be a pagan but I could get behind singing a childhood song of love for a God that was supposed to be about love. I still remember the looks and the frustration of absolute hatred that came from them. It’s a good thing looks don’t kill because we would have all been dead on the ground. One thing saved us all besides the sheriff dept and the horses, the fact that at the point in our history there wasn’t a gay person who hadn’t seen that kind of hate before from a relative or someone else in their life and we had learned to live through that we could live through it from people we didn’t know. We were stronger than them.
What made them famous was when they picketed Matt’s funeral they were attacking straight people for the first time. Straight people don’t have the kind of armour that gay people grow just by being alive and authentic to our true selves. And that is why he became famous because no one cared if he was yelling at gay people. Sad, but true before then he and we did not count as news. It was no big deal if he was screaming hate until he attacked heterosexual people and then he was news and he got what he wanted.
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