Megan Phelps-Roper: The Westboro Baptist Church escapee who is interviewing JK Rowling
In a new podcast hosted by Megan Phelps-Roper, JK Rowling will give a rare interview in which she addresses her controversial remarks on transgender rights.
The forthcoming seven-episode podcast, titled The Witch Trials of JK Rowling, has been made after the Harry Potter author sat down with US writer Phelps-Roper at her home in Edinburgh.
But who is Phelps-Roper and how did the podcast come about?
Here’s what we know...
Megan Phelps-Roper is 37 and she lives in rural South Dakota. She is best known for escaping what Louis Theroux called “the most hated family in America” in his 2007 documentary on the extremist Westboro Baptist Church, led by Phelps-Roper’s grandfather Fred Phelps.
The hate group, founded in Topeka, Kansas, picketed the funerals of soldiers and Aids victims. It is known for its hate speech against atheists, Jews, Muslims, LGBTQ+ people, and numerous Christian denominations. Their theology and practises have been rejected almost universally by Christian churches.
Phelps-Roper exited the group in 2012, largely thanks to Twitter where she discovered other points of view. She had joined the social media platform three years earlier to spread the church’s message.
In 2017, she gave a TedTalk titled: “I grew up in the Westboro Baptist Church. Here’s why I left.” The video has received over 10.5 million views.
Two years later, in 2019, Phelps-Roper wrote a book about her experience, titled Unfollow, and she is now a speaker and activist.
Last year @jk_rowling responded to a letter I wrote her. I’d asked if she’d be part of a conversation seeking to understand her perspective and those of her critics.
The result is a new audio series from @thefp:
THE WITCH TRIALS OF J.K. ROWLING
My essay: https://t.co/nNMyRGpgBy
— Megan Phelps-Roper (@meganphelps) February 14, 2023
For the podcast, Phelps-Roper travelled to Rowling’s Edinburgh castle and, for six days in May and August, conducted intimate interviews with the author.
Rowling agreed to meet with Phelps-Roper after the activist wrote her a letter.
Phelps-Roper told The Times: “I’m not trying to say, ‘Oh, you should just look past her transphobia.’ That is not it. It is very hard to feel empathy for someone who you feel is putting you in danger, or putting someone you love in danger. I believe that it’s real and valid.
“It’s just trying to help people recognise that those on the other side feel it too, and that if you want to reach them you have to listen to them.”
She continued: “People were willing to do that for me when I was a member of Westboro, celebrating death and suffering. If me, then why not this woman who has done so much with her life to try to alleviate suffering?
“She is the same person who wrote those books and I think people will hear that — even if they end up disagreeing with where she’s coming from.”
Since leaving the Westboro Baptist Church, Phelps-Roper has had two young children with her lawyer husband, Chad.
Phelps-Roper was a fan of Rowling’s books growing up. Her family, however, had apparently warned her that Rowling would go to hell for supporting gay rights.
The first two episodes of her podcast will be released on Tuesday 21 February.