Zach Phelps-Roper has spoken about his decision to break away from the Westboro Baptist Church and reconnect with other family members excommunicated from the notorious anti-gay church.
23-year-old Zach moved out of the family compound on 20 February, with the help of cousins who had already left the church.
He is the fourth of his ten siblings to leave the church, now lead by his mother Shirley Phelps-Roper - the daughter of church founder Fred Phelps
Zach told the Topeka Capital-Journal that some of his earliest memories were taking part in church pickets as a small child, but he had begun to question his church’s teachings around his 18th birthday.
He also said his interactions with LGBTI people since leaving the church had been a shockingly pleasant surprise.
‘After I left the church I met some homosexual men who were very kind to me, and I was taken aback,’ Zach said.
‘I met this guy at Olive Garden one night with my sister and he offered to pay for my entire dinner and I was so taken aback… I was like, “I don’t know what to say,” so I said, “No, no, let me do that, I’ll just pay for that, I’ve got it.”’
‘It was so funny because the very next day I saw him… I went out for a very moderate drinking [session] with my friends and family and … he just came up to me and just kindly got me one of these fruity kind of drinks that I like and he just said “Here you go man,” and just walked off – he didn’t even expect a thank you.’
Zach also shed some light on his grandfather’s mentality in his final weeks and on why he may have been excommunicated by his own church in his final days, saying he seemed to have become more moderate in his views towards the end.
‘When I was in the church they had described him as being someone who was manipulative and had mistreated other people in the church,’ Zach said.
‘[So] I was very ambivalent, I wasn’t sure what to think of my grandpa after he passed.’