Escaping Westboro

In this exclusive interview, former Westboro Baptist Church member Lauren Drain talks about what she’s sorry for, and what she believes is really the source of Fred Phelps’ homophobia.

BY Sunnivie Brydum

March 14 2013 5:00 AM ET

The Drain family from left to right: Steve, Lucy, Lauren, her sister Taylor, and baby brother Boaz at the hospital for Boaz's birth in August 2002. The Drains were living full-time at the Westboro compound by the time Boaz was born. 

I have actually encountered your dad on a picket line a time or two and engaged in an almost civil conversation … while he asked me if the girl I was standing next to and I were fornicating. [Laughs] It’s very obvious in your book that at some point, Steve decides the church is more important than his relationship with you or his relationship with his wife. What did it feel like to have that realization?
I think I was in utter shock. I think the more I realized it, it really hit home. ... When they had me in Shirley’s house, I was sitting in a chair and they were all questioning me…. My dad was there, my mom was there, Shirley, and a lot of the older people. My dad was just sitting there, and I was sitting in my chair, like I was on some sort of trial. He was like, “OK, well, this is what she’s done, isn’t she so evil? We should cast her out, shouldn’t we? I don’t think she belongs here anymore; I don’t really have any reason to keep her.”

My father was literally trying to throw me away and ask everyone for agreement. … He wouldn’t look at me or talk to me, like I wasn’t even sitting there. He didn’t ask me how I felt or what I thought or like, “Are you sorry? Do you want to stay?” Nothing. He didn’t care at all. He completely lost any kind of emotion for me. ... I definitely didn’t lose my care, compassion, and love for my family. … At this point, I thought I was losing my parents; I thought I was losing my family. So it was [a] scrambled effort to try and do whatever to stay and sacrifice any of my own values, any of my own questions, any of my own problems with the whole [place] because I was losing something. And that was my immediate reaction. In the end, I’m happy that I’m not there. I’m happy I’m out. I’m happy I got out sooner than later. And I feel a lot better off for it.

Do you see any similarities in that familial rejection, in the denial and loss of faith and family, as some of the experiences that many LGBT folk have when they come out to parents who are unaccepting and who banish them for something they cannot change?
Yeah, people have definitely written to me... [and] said they experienced similar situations where they were kicked out for their parents not agreeing with them and I think that’s awful. I think that’s awful to get rid of your child for any reason. Children are a gift from God either way.

Following up on that, do you think people are born gay?
Do I — what? [Chuckles] That’s kind of an interesting question. I have gay friends, and they tell me they don’t think it’s a choice, so I guess I’ll go based upon what people feel. As far as my ideas on things, I studied the Bible for years, and I still do, I still am a Christian. I know what it says in terms of anything in the Bible. … So I can’t really deny what it says, but I do know that I have changed. I don’t judge or condemn people like I did before. I don’t enjoy any type of mistreatment on people either — that’s just plain wrong. In other words, I tried to act like I knew everything about it before, and I used to judge people strongly. That’s not the way I am anymore. I treat people like people deserve to be treated. I don’t want that to be misconstrued.

Oh no, not at all. In your book, you said you’ll never be an activist for gay rights, but I might argue that posing for the No H8 campaign is taking a stand. It’s a broader campaign, but it is certainly closely associated with the LGBT community. How would you respond to those who would say that your participation is taking a step toward activism in support of LGBT equality?
I partly wrote my book to apologize to people that I’ve hurt. I feel like I owe people an apology. They know my name, they know who I used to be associated with, they … see that’s where I came from. So I don’t want people to think that I judge and condemn them or that I encourage mistreatment. Just because I was raised a certain way, to believe a certain way, I wanted people to know that I judge you based upon your character. I’m not going to judge you based on who you’re attracted to or anything like that. I have gay friends and we’re great friends. I’m just not interested in being an activist. Like I said, for whatever reason, I’m still Christian and I still have certain beliefs about things, but I just don’t think it’s right to mistreat people either way.

So I want to come out and make an active statement [with the No H8 photo]. I thought it was a good way to say you shouldn’t be mistreating people based upon this at all. I also did it to show people, whether or not they’re at a different church or the WBC or anything else, that people can change. People can be forgiven and communities aren’t going to hold those judgments against you forever. Even if you did or said things that were mean or cruel before, that doesn’t mean that people won’t accept you now, and know that you’ve changed as a person, that you are a good person. … That’s the general [response] that I’ve gotten with the No H8 campaign — people are very encouraging, they’re very thankful, very forgiving. And they know that I ultimately did not mean to hurt people. So I hope that answers your question.

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