Westboro Baptist Church Expected at Orlando Funerals; Friends of Victims to Counterprotest

Twenty-nine-year-old Rachel Alexander woke up on Sunday morning in Delray Beach to the horrific news of a mass shooting at an Orlando gay club. As a member of the LGBTQIA community, Alexander had frequented Pulse nightclub a handful of times, most recently about a year ago. She later found out that her college friend from FIU, Laura Vargas, had been at Pulse and was in critical condition after being shot twice in the back. 

"I was in a state of complete shock, running through names of friends frantically," Alexander tells New Times. "Then I found out a loved one had been injured and it was just complete devastation."

Alexander was compelled to act. On June 13, she started a campaign online to raise money for Vargas, who is originally from Miami, and her medical bills. In just four days, Alexander has raised more than $28,000. It was unbelievable to see the support, she says.

On Thursday, Westboro Baptist Church announced that its members would be protesting outside an Orlando church. The extremist anti-LGBT group, known for protesting outside funerals for gays and lesbians, had sent Orlando police details of their plans. Photos posted online showed bigots waving signs that read "God Sent the Shooter." Alexander was disgusted.

When Alexander saw that a friend was organizing a group of about 10 South Floridians to counterprotest in Orlando, she jumped at the chance. 

"We're going to be there for the families that are in mourning and pain," Alexander says. "We're going to conquer their hatred with our love."

Campbell Alexander (no relation to Rachel) is organizing the troupe of South Floridians headed to counterprotest in Orlando. He is securing the hotels and cars and reaching out to as many people to join as possible. "I can't stand idly by knowing that this is happening to my loved ones," Campbell says.

Campbell, a 34-year-old transgender man from Wilton Manors, says he had also been to Pulse a handful of times. He reports that his immediate social group lost three people: Christopher "Drew" Leinonen, Juan Ramon Guerrero, and Luis Vielma. 

Campbell doesn't want to divulge too much information. He says the plan is to drive up together in a caravan early Saturday morning and counterprotest the Westboro Baptist Church. They plan to block the protestors to keep them from interrupting the funerals throughout the weekend. 

"I don't have any concerns or fears, just objectives," Campbell says. "The objective is to provide support and be as loving as possible, and even though it's scary, to show that by being present, we are a strong community."

The group is accepting donations online for the trip. 
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Jess Swanson is a staff writer at New Times. Born and raised in Miami, she graduated from the University of Miami’s School of Communication and wrote briefly for the student newspaper until realizing her true calling: pissing off fraternity brothers by reporting about their parties on her crime blog. Especially gifted in jumping rope and solving Rubik’s cubes, she also holds the title for longest stint as an unpaid intern in New Times history. She left the Magic City for New York to earn her master’s degree from Columbia University School of Journalism, where she spent a year profiling circumcised men who were trying to regrow their foreskins for a story that ultimately won the John Horgan Award for Critical Science Journalism. Terrified by pizza rats and arctic temperatures, she quickly returned to her natural habitat.
Contact: Jess Swanson