A group of “angel” defenders protected LGBTQ+ Brigham Young University students from protesters who targeted a Pride event.
Utah’s Brigham Young University (BYU) students were confronted by protesters on Saturday (3 September) during a scheduled “Back to School Pride Night” that included an all-ages drag show.
The hundreds of anti-LGBTQ+ protesters reportedly screamed homophobic slurs and some had even brought handguns, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.
But things took a turn after a group of counter-protesters appeared in white cloaks and wings made of sheets.
They formed a protective barrier around the group of rainbow-wearing students.
BYU student and “angel” Sabrina Wong told the Tribune: “I’m doing this because I want our LGBTQ community to feel like they can be themselves and know we have their backs.”
The religious university, which is sponsored by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, more commonly known as the Mormon church, disallows LGBTQ+ students from meeting on campus in organised groups.
It forbids same-sex dating on campus (despite removing the official policy in 2020), potentially violating several civil rights clauses according to Associated Press.
The group of protesters included former and current BYU students ,who described gender dysphoria as a “social contagion“. Others screamed various slurs at the group, including saying they were “going against God”.
“This shouldn’t be at a public park,” co-founder of the informal BYU conservative group Thomas Stevenson said.
The “Back to School Pride Night” was organised by the RaYnbow Collective, a local group focused on creating safe spaces for LGBTQ+ BYU students and staff.
It was a spin-off of the usual annual Pride event for new students of BYU, this time also featuring a family-friendly drag show that included BYU students as performers.
RaYnbow Collective’s founder Maddison Tenney was told by police to expect large anti-LGBTQ+ crowds ahead of the event.
“Religion has been weaponised against the queer community for a long time,” she said. “But that needs to end. I believe there’s nothing more divine than who I am as a queer child of God.”
Tenney initially thought of the angel costumes after seeing them being used by friends of gay University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard in 1999.
Shepard died six days after being beaten, tortured, and left hanging from a fence by two homophobic men, who were eventually sentenced to two consecutive life terms without parole.
The tactic was used to block signs by members of the Westboro Baptist Church that read “God hates f*gs” from public view using the wings as a cover. It has become a common tactic by pro-LGBTQ+ religious groups, including at the funerals for the victims of the Orlando LGBTQ+ nightclub shooting in 2016.