After Westboro Baptist Church founder (and all-around swell guy) Fred Phelps died yesterday, the above image was upvoted all the way to the top of reddit’s frontpage.
“Westboro Baptist Church founder, Fred Phelps died earlier and for five minutes tonight around 9:00, the Empire State Building was lit up like this. Well-played, ESB….” wrote OP SondheimXXX.
Like the OP, several others on social media assumed that the ESB’s lighting was a subtle, if colorful, middle finger to the controversial hate group leader:
Empire State Building on the day Fred phelps dies. It's appropriate. But I won't celebrate. He was someone's family. https://t.co/GlEPfcycl7
— Katie (@907katie) March 21, 2014
But according to Yahoo, ESB’s color scheme isn’t as “poetic” as some would like to believe. According to the building’s official lighting schedule, March 20 was reserved for ad filming, and according to Katie’s ESB Project (a Twitter account that has religiously followed the ESB’s lighting changes since 2009), the color scheme was part of that shoot.
3/20/14 @EmpireStateBldg is changing colors tonight for filming purposes – right this second it's all the colors of the rainbow.
— Katie's ESB Project (@ESB_lights) March 21, 2014
If the Empire State Building’s managers did secretly intend for a subtle protest against Phelps, they would have been virtually alone in doing so. Though groups like GLAAD have quietly issued statements on his passing, most of the public reaction has been characterized by an overwhelming preference to ignore Fred Phelps’ death and let his name fall out of the news cycle for the last time (and then hopefully, forever).
There have been some minor efforts to organize a protest of Fred Phelps’ funeral, the most visible and popular of which is this Facebook page with nearly 2,000 likes.
We couldn’t tell you if this effort is in earnest or if it’s another one of those page-gaming scams, but Fred Phelps isn’t going to have an actual funeral anyway (according to the family) so even if you wanted a taste of poetic justice, it’s pretty much impossible.
In any case, if you see your LGBT-ally friends sharing the Empire State Building rainbow photo, do explain to them that it’s likely not related to Fred Phelps’ death. It’s better that we all just go back to ignoring him.