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An estimated 200 people armed with rainbow flags, signs of love, and white angel wings flooded the intersection of North Orange Avenue and East Jefferson Street in Orlando Saturday morning, as the anti-LGBT hate group known as Westboro Baptist Church visited the City Beautiful to picket the funeral of Christopher "Drew" Leinonen, a 32-year-old gay man who was among the 49 people killed inside the Pulse nightclub when a gunman opened fire inside the popular LGBT club in the early hours of June 12.
Organized through a Facebook group created by Orlando resident Christina Bermudez, the "Human Chain Link for Pulse Funerals" corresponded with families of the victims and local law enforcement officers to ensure that LGBT supporters showed up only at venues where the grieving family members had consented to their presence. Upon hearing confirmation from the City of Orlando that the hateful Westboro Baptist Church had been approved for a 45-minute demonstration one block away from Leinonen's funeral, hundreds of advocates and allies turned out to sheild the grieving family and friends from Westboro's hatred. Bermudez tells The Advocate the counterdemonstration was successful and notes that there were no confrontations between LGBT supporters and Westboro members.
"We just felt, as an organization, that the families and friends had the right to mourn in peace," Bermudez says. "They shouldn’t have another burden ... so we just figured, give them some respect and peace and quiet."
As the four Westboro members in attendance walked back to their vehicle, the LGBT-affirming crowd began cheering, then broke into raucous applause. Shortly thereafter, supporters started chanting "OPD, OPD," acknowledging the professional and courteous conduct of the Orlando Police Department officers who formed a barrier between WBC and counterprotesters. No one crossed that line, and law enforcement officials reportedly thanked local organizers for behaving so well.