Angel Action is a group of activists who wear white robes and unfurl large white wing-like extensions to block anti-Gay protesters at LGBTQ funerals and rallies. The costumes, wings, and protocol of Angel Action members combine activism with theatrical expression as they silently shield friends and family from hate speech.
Angel Action began as a reaction to hate speech during the funeral of a young Gay man murdered in 1998. Matthew Shepard was a student at the University of Wyoming who was tortured and left to die on a fencepost in Laramie, Wyoming on October 7. He died on October 12 from his injuries. Shepard was a friend of Romaine Patterson, a Lesbian who had lost a brother to AIDS. Patterson was appalled by the presence of anti-Gay protesters at Shepard’s funeral at St. Mark’s Church in Casper, Wyoming. These protesters held up banners taunting mourners, announcing among other things that “God Hates Fags,” “Matt in Hell,” and “AIDS Cures Fags.”
Patterson and Jim Osborn, president of the LGBTQ group at the University of Wyoming, devised a strategy for minimizing the negative effects of such protesters by creating Angel Action. They made their debut in April 1999 during the trials for the murder of Shepard. When homophobic protesters came, the members of Angel Action stood in front of them and, without saying a word, lifted up their white wings to a height of seven feet, effectively cutting the protesters from view. Since then, others have followed their example, and Angel Action groups would perform as visual shields at funerals where anti-Gay protesters would picket.
Constructing the Wings
Ron Wilcoxson, a Denver contractor, came up with the design for the wings when he heard about the group’s initial plan.
The framework for the wings is made with 12 feet of one-half inch white PVC pipe. The covering is made of two standard sized non-fitted sheets. The first sheet is cut down its length into two pieces and placed over the wings, and the second with a hole in the middle for the angel’s head and then draped over the body. Nothing is written on the wings or the robe.
The relative ease by which the outfits are made led to the expansion of Angel Action activists across the USA. Instructions for making the wings can be found on Romaine’s website. www.eatromaine.com.
Portrayal in The Laramie Project
A performance of Angel Action’s origins is presented regularly on stage during the third act in the play, The Laramie Project, by Moisés Kaufman and members of the Tectonic Theater Project (including Leigh Fondakowski, Stephen Belber, Greg Pierotti, and Stephen Wangh). The Laramie Project is based on interviews with townspeople from Laramie, journal entries of Project members, and news reports. Angel Action is also shown in the The Matthew Shepard Story and the film version of The Laramie Project.
Ingebretsen, Edward J. At Stake: Monsters and the Rhetoric of Fear in Public Culture. Chicago: University of Chicago, 2001.
Loffreda, Beth. Losing Matt Shepard: Life and Politics in the Aftermath of Anti-Gay Murder. New York: Columbia University, 2000.