People dressed as angels have stood against protesters from the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) during a funeral service for one of the victims of the Orlando massacre.
After it was reported that members of the hate church were planning to protest at Christopher Leinonen’s funeral on Saturday, the Orlando Shakespeare Theatre came up with its “Angel Wing Project”.
The group designed and constructed angel costumes with large white wings which volunteers wore at the service.
They created a silent wall of angels to block out the WBC protesters and their anti-gay signs. Their aim was to protect the mourners from having to see the hateful placards that WBC protestors are renowned for.
“Angel wings are meant as a loving support to the fallen, not to create more anger or violence,” said Jim Helsinger, the theatre’s artistic director, in a statement.
The angels were among around 200 people who attended the service in downtown Orlando in order to counter WBC’s hate and show support for the 49 people who were killed in last week’s attack.
The crowd also sang songs and chanted “We are Orlando”, drowning out the smaller homophobic group who shouted slogans like “Why did God destroy Sodom?”
Their efforts appear to have worked. The Orlando Police tweeted soon after: “Westboro protesters have left the state & no plans to return. Thank you to those who met protest with grace & love.”
Similar angels were first used in Laramie, Wyoming in 1999, at the trial of the killers of 21-year-old gay student Matthew Shepard.
Known for their virulently anti-gay campaigns asserting that “God hates fags”, WBC members have picketed gay events and even demonstrated at funerals of US soldiers who were killed in action.
The small church, which receives a vast amount of publicity due to its extremism, claims that growing acceptance of homosexuality and same-sex marriage is leading God to punish America.