After spending most of her teenage years as a member of the Westboro Baptist Church, Lauren Drain was kicked out of the antigay church for talking to a boy. At least, that’s how Drain tells the story in her revealing new memoir, Banished: Surviving My Years in the Westboro Baptist Church. Drain’s father, Steve, led the charge to excommunicate his oldest daughter, despite the fact that he had uprooted his family from Florida seven years earlier, in part, he said, to try to save her soul. Drain was kicked out shortly before her 22nd birthday. Her father, mother, and two younger sisters are still embedded in the church, living in a house on the Westboro compound in Topeka, Kan.
Today, the 27-year-old Drain lives with her fiancé in Connecticut, where she is a registered nurse. In Banished, Drain says she “will never be a political activist for gay rights,” but she tells The Advocate that she posed for the pro-equality No H8 campaign earlier this year to show “that people can change. People can be forgiven and communities aren’t going to hold those judgments against you forever.”
She says she was “ecstatic” upon hearing the news that her former friends Megan and Grace Phelps-Roper — granddaughters of the church’s infamous founding pastor, Fred Phelps — had abandoned the cult in February and apologized for their hateful words. She says she’s been in regular contact with both women since they left Westboro.
Drain knows she has some sins to atone for as well. “I feel like I owe people an apology,” says Drain. “I partly wrote my book to apologize to people that I’ve hurt.… I wanted people to know that I judge you based on your character. I’m not going to judge you based on who you’re attracted to.”
Drain, who still identifies as a Christian, says her feelings about LGBT people have softened. She now uses the word “gay,” avoiding terminology preferred by Westboro, like “fag” and “homosexual.” But when asked if she believes people are born gay, Drain is taken aback. Calling the query “an interesting question,” Drain defers to her gay friends.
“They tell me they don’t think it’s a choice, so I guess I’ll go based upon what people feel,” says Drain. “I do know that I have changed. I don’t judge or condemn people like I did before.”