“It’s not a sin to be black! It’s not a sin to be born a woman, and it’s not a sin to be born a man. And it’s not a sin to be born handicapped,” Pastor Phillip “Flip” Benham told The Daily Beast. “However, homosexual sodomy IS a sin!”
The Ted Cruz-endorsing pastor, known for holding open-casket fetus funerals and stalking abortion doctors, stoked anti-LGBT sentiment in North Carolina to pass a “religious freedom” bill by saying non-discrimination laws bring hellfire to the state. Many activists, including Benham, used the specter of men in drag intruding upon women’s restrooms to stoke the flames of hate.
For Benham, however, anti-queer activism is a calling, not just a full-time job. And so just last week, he was back before the Charlotte City Council, at a meeting for which LGBT rights weren’t on the agenda, and declared, "Our city council has really unleashed the gates of hell upon our city and upon our kids with great confusion.”
Over the phone, the pastor says HB2 (the bill removing all LGBT protections in North Carolina) doesn’t discriminate against anyone, but instead protects the rights of people like him, who don’t believe in transgender people. Benham sees trans women as men in dresses, and he knows what men really want in a women’s bathroom.
“In high school, we would drill holes in the wall, we would do all sorts of crazy things to get into...” he said, trailing off.
Still, Benham insists he’s friends—or at least friendly—with some of the transgender people he protests and calls cops on. He’s been protesting one of them, a woman named Janice, for years.
“Janice has a VA card that says he is female,” Benham said. “Now, that broke my heart.”
He picketed Janice’s use of the bathroom at a city building about a year ago, when Charlotte was debating its own non-discrimination ordinance. He described with horror the moment when Janice walked into the ladies’ room.
Did Janice harass any women in the bathroom, or expose herself to them, this reporter asked.
“No, he did not,” Benham said, conceding: “I don’t think you’d find Janice using the urinal.”
The same day that he tried to call the authorities on Janice, Benham harassed a 17-year-old girl outside that same restroom, calling her a “punk” and “pervert” for needing to pee while transgender.
“It was me, it was me. He had his mom there,” Benham told The Daily Beast, adding that he thought the teen was just 15 or 16. “We were just with Janice, getting Janice and dealing with him... and the girls are in there and this guy goes in.”
Benham was particularly disturbed because unlike Janice, this girl wasn’t even wearing a dress.
In response, the teen—identified only as Olivia to protect her from further harassment—called Benham an asshole.
But when this reporter asked Benham where transgender men should go to the restroom in North Carolina now that HB2 has passed, he was perplexed. Benham had never, it seems, encountered the idea of transgender men.
“I’ve never seen a woman in a man’s bathroom, sitting on a urinal,” he said.
Attempts to explain the concept of “passing,” or transgender people moving through public space without others noticing they are transgender, were unsuccessful. This reporter suggested the men, some of whom have beards and receding hairlines, could just use the toilet stall in the men’s room if they needed to sit down to pee.
“If that was open. But there are only about one toilet!” Benham said.
“You may know things that I don’t know at The Daily Beast,” he added. “This may be something that I am just so naíve, I have never seen it.”
This reporter offered to send Benham images of transmen to illustrate the issue. At one point, Benham asked, “How many of these do you know?” (For lack of firm numerical data, this reporter offered that there are probably as many trans men as there are trans women like Janice.)
Benham’s activism has a long history. In his book The Family, journalist Jeff Sharlet described Benham as "the man who baptized Norma McCorvey—Jane Roe of Roe v. Wade—into fundamentalism,” a fact both literally and metaphorically true. (Benham, however, was not a member of the core group covered in the book.)
After initially exchanging insults with the woman who brought abortion to America while she was working at a women’s health clinic, Benham formed a friendship with McCorvey. He preached to her, and eventually, she converted.
McCorvey’s 1995 baptism, by Benham, was aired on national television.
The streets became Benham’s pulpit. The ordained pastor in the Free Methodist Church once had a congregation in Texas, but has now spent most of his career as an activist, running Operation Save America, preaching against abortion, and advocating against freedoms for transgender people and gays.
Benham sued Charlotte in 2010 for denying him a festival permit for one of his protests. The pastor said protest laws didn’t allow him to be as loud as he wanted, and the decision to deny him the more expansive allowance was rooted in disapproval of his views.
But a judge said that Benham’s event was simply not popular enough to justify the festival permit. The city attorney added that it had no obvious economic benefit for the city, as an LGBT pride festival might.
“Those kind of events are an economic development benefit to the city and an entertainment opportunity for tens of thousands of people,” Bob Hagemann told WFAE when Benham lost the lawsuit in 2013. “I think it’s a little bit different when you’re talking about a street preacher—and again we respect the street preacher’s rights—but we don’t think the preacher has a right to pump his message into buildings where people are trying to work during business hours.”
Also in 2010, Benham was found guilty of stalking a doctor who provides abortions by posting “Wanted” posters with his name and address.
“It doesn’t say ‘Wanted Dead or Alive,’ but the implications are clearly there,” one doctor, who asked for anonymity because he feared for his life, told CBS. “I am always looking over my shoulder. I know they know my car. They know my face. They’ve been to my house. They’ve put these posters in my neighborhood. So, yeah, I look over my shoulder.”
Prosecutors said the posters were dangerous because other doctors had been murdered after such incidents, but Benham denied that allegation.
“Nobody has gone and killed because [he or she] saw a poster,” he said. “That is the most absurd and logical fallacy that there possibly could be.”
In 2014, Benham was one of just three holdouts heckling gay couples getting married in Charlotte. One of his allies reportedly screamed profanities in the name of God, all while waving a Bible.
On a trip down to New Orleans that year, Benham and Operation Save America held a “wake” for a supposedly aborted fetus, which they named Amos. The crying activists placed carnations around his makeshift casket.
“In 1995 there were 10 abortion clinics in New Orleans, now there is just one,” Benham told the NOLA Defender. “Our prayer is that the last one will be closed and that the Planned Parenthood under construction will never be built.” The clinic appears to still be under construction.
While in the area, Operation Save America disrupted the service of the “Synagogue of Satan”—known to the rest of us as a Unitarian Universalist church, which at that time was having a moment of silence for a congregant who’d recently passed away.
“I think we were an easy target, because we’re literally just a few blocks down the road from where they’re building this clinic,” Rev. Deanna Vandiver said at the time. “But we are not interested in being terrorized. Freedom of speech does not trump freedom of religion.”
Nonetheless, presidential hopeful Ted Cruz published Benham’s name on a list of religious leaders he’s proud to be endorsed by. Benham said he likes Cruz because he and his father have strong biblical principals and are “unashamed” of that.
“I know a man who knows the Bible,” he said. “Ted Cruz knows the Bible.”
“There’s just a war against God in the Democratic Party,” Benham explained. “In the Republican Party we’re dealing with real enemies. They wear the same uniform as us, but they would rather see Hillary Clinton elected president than Ted Cruz or Donald Trump.”
Not that Donald Trump is a true Christian in his eyes. “He thinks he’s a Christian, just like I thought I was a Christian before I met Jesus,” he said. “Just like people believed the Titanic was an unsinkable ship.”
And for those who think crusades like Benham’s will fade with his generation, meet his outspoken offspring, the Benham twins. Cruz also loves the sons, saying Jason and David Benham “are the kind of fighters America needs.”
The twins followed in their dad’s footsteps, but their activism axed their house-flipping show on HGTV in 2014 after anti-gay remarks David made for a Christian Post article surfaced on the website Right Wing Watch.
“In the Leviticus passage above it says that death is the consequence for homosexual sin,” David Benham said. “Homosexual sin is covered by the blood of Jesus the same way stealing is. The only difference today is that homosexual sin carries with it an agenda, other sins do not. Homosexuality demands acceptance, and the blood of Jesus cannot forgive sins that are no longer sins. The blood of Jesus cleanses sin.”
The ADL notes that he also spoke out against Islam while a spokesman for OSA. “The difference between Islam and Christianity: Islam takes life and enslaves it. Christianity lays its life down and sets you free,” he said.
But their proud dad said it wasn’t the tone of their remarks that people found objectionable, but the fact that they were standing up to the creeping gay agenda. The channel, he said, was really “Homosexual Garbage Television.”
“You see, the homosexual community doesn’t want to just get you fired or something like that, they want to destroy you! They want to destroy everything because inside of them, their heart is raging against the Lord and they can’t ever get satisfied because God thwarts the cravings of the wicked,” Benham railed.
“And you understand that’s the most violent community there is, is the homosexual community,” he said. “They want you dead! I’m guaranteeing you they want you dead!”
Today, that fight continues for Benham in Charlotte. “I just wanted to assure [Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts] that I’m not done with them,” he said of the City Council meeting. Benham promises to be back next time, pushing them to get on his side.
“And if you say you’re on the fence, well, the devil owns the fence,” he said.