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 6:00 AM ET

In the book you also talk about how some of the most vicious comments you have received behind the picket line came from gay people. Do you hold any resentment against those folks — gay or not — who hurled particularly cruel insults at you in response to your messages at the WBC?
I definitely do not hold anything against them. … Obviously, our target was the gay community. So it makes sense that some of those people were upset. But I definitely saw any and every kind of person get angry at us: Christians, Catholics, everyone. It didn’t matter who it was. People would yell back nasty things. But then again, we were asking for it. We were asking for negative attention. … I can’t imagine being on the other side and not having ever lived in the WBC, not having been raised in that way, and maybe being approached in a fashion where they’re picketing my family. I can’t imagine how I would’ve reacted, so I definitely don’t hold that against anyone. Like I said, I’m asking for forgiveness, and I totally forgive anyone else that I might have approached in my former years.

One of the things I found most interesting was the speculation you made about the source of Pastor Fred Phelps’s staunch aversion to homosexuality, specifically in the military. Can you expand a little bit on where you think that came from?
I never had a one-on-one conversation with him. He would tell the congregation, or I’d hear my father interview him. … [Phelps’s] father raised him a Boy Scout, then he went to Eagle Scouts — he had all these honors. I think he graduated high school at, like, 17, ready to go to the military. … And then all of a sudden, he had a 360 and decided he wanted nothing to do with military. Instead, now he wanted to be a preacher at the young age of 17, and now he had this whole crusade against sexual immorality. … And it was after this event  — I don’t know what happened, I can’t even say. All I know is that he said he went to West Point, then all of a sudden he had a religious experience, and now he wanted to preach against sexual immorality, preach against the military, and ever since then things have kind of progressed.

I don’t know what it is, but when people would ask me questions about the church, I never really got mad about anything. Someone might be like, “Oh, are you a lesbian?” And I’d be like, “No.” I wouldn’t be like, “Oh, my God, I’m not!” I wouldn’t freak out and get defensive. 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.

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