Sunday, May 30, 2010

A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood

Someday, Venango County's Proponents of Bigotry and Hate Will Also See the Errors of Their Ways ... and that Day Cannot Come Too Soon!

By Joseph Sabino Mistick for The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Mister Rogers spent a lifetime telling children "It's you I like."

Kids are not always likable on the surface but Fred was referring to "that deep part of you that allows you to stand for those things without which humankind cannot survive. Love that conquers hate, peace that rises triumphant over war and justice that proves more powerful than greed."

Inexplicably, those sentiments earned Mister Rogers the wrath of a disbarred lawyer and self-proclaimed "righteous" man of the cloth named Fred Phelps. Phelps, pastor of the independent Westboro Baptist Church, in Topeka, Kan., is infamous for his anti-gay sentiments and demonstrations. But at least he is an equal opportunity hater.

Phelps is also anti-Irish, anti-Italian, anti-Swedish, anti-Semitic, anti-Catholic, anti-American-war hero, anti-Matthew Shepard, anti-Billy Graham and, apparently, anti-Mister Rogers. Outside of Fred Rogers' memorial service at Heinz Hall in 2003, Phelps' acolytes trampled an American flag and ranted against Fred for not speaking out against homosexuals.

Phelps is the same guy who stages hate-filled demonstrations at the funerals of fallen soldiers, sometimes turning their final honors into a circus by incongruously linking their combat deaths to his anti-gay message. He connects his anti-homosexual theology to everything and everyone and calls the United States a "sodomite nation of flag-worshipping idolaters."

But there is a new Phelps coming to town and this one is doing all he can to counter the grief and heartache inflicted by his father. At the stroke of midnight on his 18th birthday, Nate Phelps left his father's oppressive ideology of hatred behind. It was a scary decision but even back then Nate sensed that his father was "about control and violence, not about God and religion."

Nate is 51 now, having been married, divorced and recently engaged and he is a straight guy with a passion for justice and equality for all -- especially his gay fellow citizens. As he says, "Today, I see the struggle of the gay community the same as the struggle of the black community in the '60s. We have, as a society, blinded ourselves to the very real prejudices we carry against gays."

Nate has an easy chuckle and speaks in the deliberate fashion of someone who takes care not to seem too sure of himself. He has traveled a rocky path, strewn with bad memories, depression and years of therapy and he makes it clear that he is still "a work in progress." But the one thing about which he is certain is that there is "no right to affect the lives of other people."

Nate will be in Pittsburgh this Friday to deliver that message of love that is so different from his father's. At 6 p.m., on the steps of the City-County Building, Nate will help kick off the Delta Foundation of Pittsburgh's Advocacy Rally and it will be the first time he has spoken at a Gay Pride event.

Nate's father may not be pleased with his son's appearance at the rally but Martin Luther King Jr., who knew something about discrimination, said: "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."

Mister Rogers would have agreed. And he probably would have told Nate Phelps, "It's you I like."

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