A group of “angels” recently protected LGBTQ students from anti-LGBTQ protesters at an event in Provo, Utah.
Over 100 anti-LGBTQ protesters attended Back to School Pride Night, an event that connects queer Brigham Young University (BYU) students, faculty, and staff to locally supportive businesses, students, and community members.
The event featured family-friendly performances by 12 drag queens, including some current and former BYU students, as well as live music from local and touring bands, an art show, and over 80 vendors and organizations.
The protesters shouted, “Pedophile!” “Groomer!” “You’re going against God!” “Stop protecting the homos!” and “Christ is king”, The Salt Lake Tribune reported. Some carried handguns, waved U.S. flags, and held signs with anti-LGBTQ slogans and religious verses.
Protesters, including local residents and conservative BYU students, complained about the event being held at a public park and called drag “a sexual fetish” that “sexualizes children.” The drag performances all featured child-friendly versions of pop songs and had no nudity or partial nudity, the event’s lead organizer said.
However, the protesters were far outnumbered by event attendees and counter-protesters. The counter-protesters included about a dozen “angels” who showed up with wings made of white sheets draped over PVC pipes that extended 3 feet above their shoulders. Together, the angels formed a wall in front of the protesters, effectively blocking attendees from seeing the haters. Supporters waved rainbow flags in the gap between the angels’ wings.
“I’m doing this because I want our LGBTQ community to feel like they can be themselves and know we have their backs,” Sabrina Wong, one of the angels, told the Salt Lake Tribune.
— Courtney Tanner (@CourtneyLTanner) September 4, 2022
The event — which was attended by roughly 300 people, including some children — was organized by the RaYnbow Collective, a nonprofit supporting BYU’s LGBTQ community. The collective’s founder, Maddison Tenney, said that she expected protesters, but became more concerned when Provo police told her to expect a large group of them. All 12 of the event’s drag performers also received violent threats on social media before the event.
So Tenney got the idea to organize a group of angels to block the protest. A group known as “The Angel Action Wings Project” wore similar outfits in 1999 to block members of the rabidly anti-queer Westboro Baptist Church from protesting the trial and funeral connected to Matthew Shepard, a murdered, gay, 21-year-old University of Wyoming student.
Similar angels also blocked anti-LGBTQ protesters who attended the funerals of the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting victims in Orlando, Florida.
The counter-protesters also included a group called the Black Menaces, a group of BYU students who oppose prejudice on campus. Police monitored the crowd and broke up a few clashes between protesters and counter-protestors.
The RaYnbow Collective organized the park event to oppose BYU’s long history of supporting ex-gay therapy and anti-LGBTQ scholarship. In 2011, the school’s Honor Code included a prohibition on homosexual advocacy, defined as “seeking to influence others to engage in homosexual behavior or promoting homosexual relations as being morally acceptable.” The prohibition sounds similar to Russia’s law forbidding all “homosexual propaganda.” The school also recently threatened to arrest any students who protest the school’s anti-LGBTQ policies and trashed school brochures welcoming LGBTQ freshmen.
“I think that when people feel scared about this event, it’s just because they’ve never been to a pride festival, or they’ve only been to pride festivals in other locations. But also I have been so incredibly humbled and amazed at the community that has come out and supported us,” Tenney told the Daily Herald. “We just want everyone to come and be kind.”