This Saturday, thousands of mourners congregated in Orlando, Florida to say their final goodbyes to Christopher Andrew Leinonen, one of 49 club-goers murdered by shooter Omar Mateen, the man who opened fire on the gay nightclub Pulse last weekend.
Predictably, there were also a handful of antigay activists in the crowd, including members of Westboro Baptist Church. Fortunately, their guttural gay hatred was successfully shielded by a team of intrepid counter-protesters from the city’s Shakespeare Theater, who succeeded in blocking their presence with their long billowy “angel wings.”
It’s a strategy that’s been used before, as early as 1999, when Westboro was effectively blocked from picketing the funeral of Matthew Shepard, a young man murdered in Laramie, Wyoming for being gay.
People wore giant angel wings & stood in front of the Westboro Baptist Church so family members wouldn’t see them @ the #Orlando funerals ??
— Calum McSwiggan (@CalumMcSwiggan) June 20, 2016
According to Jim Helsinge, artistic direction of the theater, “Angel wings are meant as a loving support to the fallen, not to create more anger or violence.”
Other counter-protesters held signage that read “OrlandoStrong,” held up rainbow banners, or sang “Amazing Grace.”
As The Washington Post reports, the crowd cheered as the people dressed as angels made their first appearance.
“We couldn’t even hear WBC,” said one attendee on Facebook. “All you could hear was peace and love.”
Westboro protesters have left the state & no plans to return. Thank you to those who met protest with grace & love. pic.twitter.com/PZJ9F9MB9S
— Orlando Police (@OrlandoPolice) June 18, 2016
— Joey Flechas (@joeflech) June 18, 2016
Amazing grace against Westboro Baptist Church. pic.twitter.com/jmkpZdRefF
— Alex Harris (@harrisalexc) June 18, 2016
So hateful Westboro Baptist tried to disrupt Orlando funerals. But hundreds blocked them, some dressed as angels ?? pic.twitter.com/ICyTtOAgqZ
— Shadi Rahimi (@shadirahimi) June 18, 2016