Little has been said about what life is like inside the Westboro Baptist Church, the hate group best known for picketing funerals and its vehemently anti-gay views—that is, until now. Fred Phelps’ granddaughter Libby spoke with Vice about what it was like growing up in the WBC, and what her life has been like since she left.
Libby Phelps left the church her grandfather built in 2009. Regarding why, she says, “There are so many reasons; bottom line is I don’t believe in WBC theology. I don’t think it’s right to display such a hateful message. I especially don’t think it’s right picketing funerals.”
Although she went to public school as a child, she wasn’t allowed to have friends outside of the church: “We were only really able to develop relationships with those who attended WBC.” She was also sometimes treated poorly by other classmates or even teachers, “but we were told that the world hated us, so we expected it.”
Libby reports that despite the WBC’s promotion of hate, she was very close to her family growing up—something she misses now, especially since she has yet to see such closeness in the “real world.”
Although she grew up participating in LGBT rights protests, she says, “As I got older, I decided I didn’t believe in the doctrine,” even though rejecting her family’s views meant she was forced “to leave everyone I’d ever known behind and start a new life.”
She explains, “once you leave WBC you can’t talk to anyone any more. It’s weird, but that’s how it is. You leave your entire life, everything you’ve ever known. That’s why it’s so hard to leave.”
Despite the environment in which she was raised, Libby says “I think I’ve always thought nobody was better than anyone else, I just couldn’t express it. At WBC your actions and thoughts were conditioned and controlled by the older generations.”
The home of Planting Peace, the rainbow-colored Equality House, is deliberately located just across the street from the WBC’s compound, and after Libby left, she found herself wanting to participate in a different type of activism. “Within the first month of them painting it, I stopped by and wanted to help out. The owners gave me a paintbrush, and I helped paint the house.”
On March 23, Libby participated in the organization’s second anniversary event, “Plant One for Peace.” Now married with a young son, she said that she attended the celebration with her family because she believes in equality—and to be there for her young cousin, who has also left the WBC.
When asked what her life is like now, she says, “I’ve done so many things that weren’t possible at WBC…
“For the most part everyone has been so supportive and understanding, including my friends at the Equality House. WBC had raised us to believe that everyone outside of the church hated us, and it’s so refreshing to see that’s not true.”