By now, most people — at least those in the music industry and LGBT community — know who the Westboro Baptist Church is. They're the Topeka, Kansas-based church, started by the late Fred Phelps, whose slogan is "God Hates Fags." Their 40 or so members, mostly family, link every tragedy somehow to homosexuality and have picketed thousands of events.
In addition to protesting at military funerals, they've unleashed their wrath on many notable musicians, including picketing Michael Jackson and Ronnie James Dio's funerals (Jackson for his child abuse scandal, and Dio because they think he's a Satan worshiper), picketing concerts, and lashing out against such acts as Foo Fighters, Lorde, Brad Paisley, Young the Giant, and most recently Panic! At The Disco.
Oddly enough, WBC has become quite musical itself, releasing offense parody songs, such as "God Hates the World," a parody of Jackson's "We Are the World," and "You Love Sin What a Tragedy," a hate-filled take on Panic!'s 2006 hit, "I Write Sins Not Tragedies."
After WBC started a Twitter war with Panic! At The Disco weeks leading up to their July 20 show in Kansas City, Missouri, and revealed they would picket outside, the band decided to turn the negative into a positive by donating $20 for every WBC protester that showed up. When only 13 did, they rounded up the amount to $1000, plus 5 percent of merch sales from the night.
Though the hubbub over the incident has died down, the band — currently touring behind 2013’s Too Weird To Live, Too Rare to Die! — has decided to keep up its fight for gay rights by creating a limited edition T-shirt with all proceeds benefiting the Human Rights Campaign, which fights for equality for the LGBT community.
Samaritanmag.com chatted with Panic! singer Brendon Urie — who is outspoken about bisexuality and a huge supporter of gay rights — about the WBC incident, the aftermath of the protest, and their charitable efforts.
Did you ever think you'd be in a Twitter war with a church?
“[Laughs.] Nope. But, when it happened I just found it hilarious. We figured we might as well turn it into something good rather than just get angry about something that is so ridiculous as Westboro. Initially, I was shocked. I was annoyed. But that passed and subsided fairly quickly. We didn't want to give it too much thought because they are so ridiculous. They're just lashing out and wanting media attention. When we realized that's what it was, it was more fun for us to be, okay, now we can do the things we always want to do like donate to charities and support the things that we believe in, and then throw them into the mix what would anger them more than supporting Human Rights Campaign.”
Were you aware of Westboro Baptist Church before? They did the same thing with Young the Giant earlier this year and other bands.
“Yeah. Oh, definitely. I first heard about them when they picketed a Foo Fighters show. They turned it around into something awesome. We thought that was a cool move instead of getting angry and attacking that. It's a good opportunity to use their hate for something good that we believe in. I remember thinking, 'Wow. I didn't realize there were groups of people like this.' It's just kind of weird that all they really want is attention. A lot of it just seems like invalid hatred. They don't really care. They just pawn it off on their God — like God hates gay people. It's kind of a cop-out. I can't hate on them. It's just ridiculous.”
How did you first hear that they were going to picket the show and that you're on their "going to hell" list?
“They'd been threatening us online for two weeks before the show. They were tweeting at us all kinds of hate mail, like 'you're committing fag sin' and 'repent or perish' and calling me a 'fag pimp.' But when they showed up, there were only 13 people and they stayed for only 20 minutes, which is just so cowardly, just to get the media attention and make it on the news. That doesn't seem like courage beyond your convictions. [Wesboro Baptist tweeted this after the poor showing: ‘We counted, @PanicAtTheDisco! We had13 picketers! But if we're being technical, you must count myriads of angels!’]”
Was there one tweet that particularly pissed you off or made you laugh? My favorite was "There'll be PANIC at the second coming of Christ."
“Hahaha! Yeah! That's what's funny; they would pull out the worst puns ever.”
What did you think of their parody song of "I Write Sins Not Tragedies" as "You Love Sin What a Tragedy?"
“Pretty amazing. We were dying laughing when we heard it. It was pretty funny. I kind of want to do a live version of it.”
Playing it live would be hilarious. Do you have a favorite lyric from their parody?
“Yeah, it's in the chorus and they sing ‘We chime in/ Haven't you people ever heard of obeying the Word of God?' Oh, that's hilarious. Obeying the word of God coming from people like that it kind of just blew my mind.”
We all know the story in your song, "I Write Sins Not Tragedies?" about someone calling the bride a whore on her wedding day. I always wondered, did this really happen to one of you?
“It's based on something loosely that happened. Ryan [Ross], who was playing guitar at the time, wrote most of the lyrics. He was writing about something that actually happened to him. His girlfriend had just cheated on him. He was heartbroken and instead of sulking or being depressed, he turned it into a very angry, sarcastic song about how ridiculous she was.”
How did you choose HRC?
“We've donated a few times to different charities, but never worked with HRC until now. I thought it was a great opportunity for us to do something we always wanted to. We did tell them we'd donate $20 for every person they brought, but they only showed up with 13 people so that wasn't a large donation. So, now what we're doing is selling a special, limited tie-dyed edition T-shirt that says ‘Boys Love Boys and Girls’ and another says ‘Girls Love Girls and Boys’ on our website. 100 percent of the profits go to HRC. We wanted to do more for them.” [The shirts sell for $25]
Are any of the members of the band religious?
“I was actually raised in the Mormon Church and when I was about 12 or 13, I realized that it wasn't for me. I didn't believe in it, but I kind of kept it to myself at first even though I was rebelling against everything at that age anyway.
“Finally, when I was 17 when I just joined the band, I worked up the courage to tell my parents exactly what I believed. I am an Atheist, but I do consider myself spiritual. For me, just the answer of God kind of cheapens the experience for me, and it's not for everybody. That's not what everybody thinks. I think it's greater than just one person in this cloud telling people that they are going to Hell or Heaven. I think it's so much bigger than that. That’s just me.
“My family is still devout Mormons and I love them to death. But, I think to each his own. Everybody in the band has their own beliefs and I think it's really important to have that [religious diversity] so we can all learn from each other. I can't really speak for anyone else, but I know our bass player, Dallon [Weekes], is a very active Mormon. That's his thing and that's totally cool; I can relate. We can all understand different beliefs, but what we can't understand is the hatred that comes from some who believe different.”
Even though the picketing and Twitter was ridiculous, it's always good to have this conversation continue for LGBT rights and being accepting of other religions and beliefs. It helps get us one step closer to living in a world where everyone believes love is love regardless of gender.
“Absolutely. The feedback has been amazing — so positive. It's good to know that there are more open-minded people more than those who hate. It's really great and uplifting to realize most everyone is open minded to loving who you want and against the tactics of things Westboro. Most everyone is along the mind of do what you want to do as long as you're not hurting everyone. To each his own. When things like this happen, it's a great platform to reinforce those beliefs to everyone out there, and the support to our point of view, versus Westboro, has been overwhelming. It's been a really positive experience. We got tons of great tweets, but one in particular stands out about us giving them someone the courage to come out to family and friends. It was really beautiful and so validating. I do believe love will conquer the hate and positive will conquer the negative in the long run."
Has this experience inspired you to want to do more charitable work or to speak up for cause you believe in?
"Definitely. It's addicting. To be part of something that ended up so positive is a drug in itself. It's one of the best feelings ever. It does make me want to fight more for the things I believe in without having to tell people that what they believe in is wrong. For me, personally, I'm a member of Ally Coalition as well. I'm also a huge breast cancer supporter. My mom went through it and it's personal to me. There are so many causes I feel passionate about; I don't want to limit myself to any one thing.”
Do you feel a responsibility as band with audience to use for good other than just entertainment?
“Yeah. I do feel so fortunate to have any kind of platform to talk about the things that are really important to me instead of just being in the shadows. And, the Internet and social media are powerful tools to do that. It's a really exciting time to not just connect with fans on a closer level than before, but to spread your message about the things you really believe in.”Sneakers