"Angels" Have Protected LGBTQ Hate Victims From the Westboro Baptist Church Before

"Angels" Have Protected LGBTQ Hate Victims From the Westboro Baptist Church Before
Source: AP
Source: AP

On Saturday, a group of men and women with the Orlando Shakespeare Theatre lined up together while dressed in all-white linen and makeshift wings by their sides. They were shielding mourners from anti-gay rhetoric of the Westboro Baptist Church, who were picketing the funeral of Orlando, Florida, shooting victim Christopher Leinonen.

But this wasn't the first time angels appeared to protect mourners from the Westboro Baptist Church members. In fact, these angels appeared nearly 20 years ago at another watershed moment in American LGBTQ history: Matthew Shepard's funeral.

On the night of Oct. 6, 1998, Shepard — a University of Wyoming student — was brutally beaten and tortured by two college-aged men who were reportedly motivated by homophobic sentiment. Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, offered to give Shepard a ride home from bar in Laramie, Wyoming. Instead, McKinney and Henderson drove Shepard to a remote area where they robbed him, then beat him until they fractured his skull.

Six days later, Shepard died. He was 21.

Led by Fred Phelps, the Westboro Baptist Church picketed Shepard's funeral on Oct. 16 with anti-gay slogans. Disgusted by the sight of such hatred, Shepard's friend Romaine Patterson created Angel Action. Donning themselves with white linen robes and wings, the angels blocked the sight of the homophobic protesters from mourners at Shepard's funeral.

In an 1998 interview with CNN, Patterson said she couldn't just sit and watch anti-gay slurs hurled at the funeral procession of her beloved friend. She felt like she had to do something.

"I could no longer sit idly by and watch others bring forth messages that were nothing more than vindictive and hate-filled," said then 21-year-old Patterson. "As a young person, I feel it is necessary to show the great nation that we live in that there doesn't need to be this kind of violence and hatred in our world."

Read more:
• "Angels" Block Westboro Baptist Church From Protesting Orlando Victim's Funeral
• Donald Trump Courts Anti-Gay Pastor in Dallas Just Days After Orlando Shooting
• Silence Can Be Violence, That's Why We Have To Talk About The Orlando Shooting

How much do you trust the information in this article?

Sarah A. Harvard

Sarah is a staff writer covering religion, race and politics. Her work has appeared in The Guardian, The Atlantic, Slate, The Huffington Post, TeenVogue, and VICE. Send tips and feedback: sharvard@mic.com

MORE FROM

70% of Muslims still believe in the American dream, according to new Pew study

Despite high rates of discrimination, Muslims are optimistic about their lives in the United States.

Man with Nazi tattoos at Cleveland Indians game sparks outrage. The Indians’ mascot is still racist.

Swastikas are bad. So is Chief Wahoo.

Baton Rouge police chief resigns after a year of political turmoil over Alton Sterling shooting

Baton Rouge's mayor had campaigned on a promise to replace the city's police chief, in the wake of Alton Sterling's shooting death.

‘Whose Streets?’ film highlights Ferguson activists’ battle with the trauma of protests

Brittany Ferrell, an organizer of the Ferguson Uprising, says a new documentary about Black Lives Matter protests shows why activists should be more intentional about checking in on each other.

Minneapolis police chief resigns after fatal shooting of Australian woman

Minneapolis Police Chief Janeé Harteau announced in a Facebook post that she is stepping aside.

Mentally ill prisoners in Louisiana forced to bark like dogs for food, lawsuit claims

Investigators came. Everyone was told not to speak to them.

70% of Muslims still believe in the American dream, according to new Pew study

Despite high rates of discrimination, Muslims are optimistic about their lives in the United States.

Man with Nazi tattoos at Cleveland Indians game sparks outrage. The Indians’ mascot is still racist.

Swastikas are bad. So is Chief Wahoo.

Baton Rouge police chief resigns after a year of political turmoil over Alton Sterling shooting

Baton Rouge's mayor had campaigned on a promise to replace the city's police chief, in the wake of Alton Sterling's shooting death.

‘Whose Streets?’ film highlights Ferguson activists’ battle with the trauma of protests

Brittany Ferrell, an organizer of the Ferguson Uprising, says a new documentary about Black Lives Matter protests shows why activists should be more intentional about checking in on each other.

Minneapolis police chief resigns after fatal shooting of Australian woman

Minneapolis Police Chief Janeé Harteau announced in a Facebook post that she is stepping aside.

Mentally ill prisoners in Louisiana forced to bark like dogs for food, lawsuit claims

Investigators came. Everyone was told not to speak to them.