Mourners at Vanessa Collier’s funeral were in for a surprise when the service was moved to another location 15 minutes after it was supposed to begin. The reason? New Hope Ministries, where the service took place, refused to show a tribute video about Vanessa's life because it included footage of her kissing her female partner.
"They [her family] didn't want to edit her life," explained Collier’s friend Jose Silva, when asked why her family wouldn't comply with the church's request.
Reaching a stalemate, the funeral service ended up taking place at a funeral home across the street. Now that the service is over, friends of Collier's are protesting New Hope Ministries, demanding an apology from Pastor Ray Chavez. Signs in the protest had slogans like "Dignity in Death Vanessa" and "You will not find Jesus at New Hope but you will find HYPOCRISY."
"This is about not being able to have dignity in death for one of God's children," Silva said about the protest. "No matter what the circumstances -- if you're black, white, brown, gay, lesbian, transgender -- we all deserve that. And the church did not afford that to us."
Pastor Chavez has not spoken to the media about his decision, but he has gotten support from some of his parishioners, including Anita Luna. "The pastor stood for what he believes in, and he believes in God's truth," she said.
In the meantime, a Facebook protest page in support of Collier continues to grow. “Pastor Ray Chavez and New Hope Ministries Cancelled the funeral of our friend 15 minutes after it was to have begin,” the page reads. “He refused to allow her alternative life style video of her life be shown and kicked us out of the church. Her casket was open, flowers laid out and hundreds of people sitting in the pews. He collected money for the funeral and has yet to return it.”
All of this hits in the wake of transgender teen Leelah Alcorn’s suicide last month. Advocates had been upset by people (including Leelah’s mother) referring to Leelah as a “he” after her death, seeing it as another form of prejudice and disrespect. Silva and other friends and advocates for Collier are saying things along the same line: that we should all be respected, no matter a person’s orientation or gender identity.
"Vanessa was disrespected at what was to be a time to celebrate her life," her friends said on Facebook.