Four years ago, I moved to Topeka, Kansas. I love Topeka as a city. I like to say it’s small-town life with big city convenience. What most people call traffic in Topeka is a mild inconvenience to me after having to commute in cities like Philadelphia and Charlotte. I can get anywhere in town in no more than 20 minutes.
However, Topeka is famous or infamous for a few things. The band Kansas is from here which is a good thing. (Wayward Son is a timeless classic, fight me.) Topeka is also where Brown vs. Board of Education took place. On that front, at least Topeka admits its mistake as they have the Brown vs. Board Museum and many other attractions celebrating the ruling. Unfortunately today, what most people outside of Topeka associate Kansas with is the Westboro Baptist Church. If you don’t know the name, you may recognize their protest signs as they are the reviled ‘God hates fags’ church.
When I first arrived in Topeka, one of the first things I wanted to see was the church itself. Lady Gray took me by the church and it looks more like a compound than anything else. It’s not that big but it’s surrounded by a high-security fence that was topped with barbed wire and a ton of security cameras. The church is named after the Westboro neighborhood where it’s located. Not everyone who lives in Westboro is from the notorious Phelps family but there are a few of them there. I can’t speak for all Topekans, but it seems the WBC is mostly viewed as an annoyance by most residents.
It’s also not like they’re out on the streets of Topeka every day. I usually only see them out about once a year. My first year here, I saw the protesting another church, I didn’t know their reason behind the protest but I imagine the church welcomes people from the LGBT community. I was livid when I saw them protesting. If it wasn’t for the fact that we were going to a family get together it would have ruined my day. About a year later, I saw them protesting across the street from a Catholic church. For some reason, The Freds, as Lady Gray and I call them, have something against the Catholic Church even though the Catholic Church doesn’t have the most stellar record when it comes to LGBT tolerance. The next year, I saw them protesting the Arab Shrine Circus that takes place in Topeka every year. This is run by the Arab Shriners who are a part of the larger Shriner community. I imagine that the WBC thinks they must be part of the New World Order Illuminati Build-A-Bear group. (Yes, I know it’s actually Bilderberg.) After that, I didn’t see them for a while. When Lady Gray and I went to see Jesus Christ Superstar at the Topeka Performing Arts Center last year, I would have laid odds that they would have been there protesting but they weren’t.
Then I ran some errands the other day. I drove past a group of Freds but I couldn’t get a good look at what their signs said. They weren’t in front of anything except a vacant field. I went past that intersection again on my way back home which wasn’t more than 20 minutes later and they were gone. The next day, I was running errands again and saw them outside of the main park in Topeka where the zoo is. That’s not too far from where the church is. Again, I couldn’t get a good look at their signs. My mind leads me to believe they were either protesting about George Floyd saying he deserved it or COVID-19 saying that everyone who gets it deserves it. Once again, when I drove past no more than 10 minutes later, they were gone again like they were some kind of homophobic hallucination.
My point being that Topeka is not representative of the Westboro Baptist Church. The church’s founder Fred Phelps isn’t even from here and most of the church consists of his family members.