A Lakewood, Colorado church halted the funeral for a 33-year-old lesbian and turned away her grieving family and friends on Saturday over the funeral party’s refusal to remove photos of the deceased kissing and holding her beloved wife from a remembrance video.
The Denver Post reported that hundreds of mourners had gathered to pay their last respects to Vanessa Collier when New Hope Ministries Pastor Ray Chavez brought the proceedings to an abrupt halt.
The funeral could only go forward in his church, Chavez said, if mourners removed any visible evidence that Collier was a lesbian, including photos taken with her partner, Christina, which he insisted must be edited out of the video.
The funeral-goers refused Chavez’s terms and the pastor canceled the ceremony altogether 15 minutes after it was scheduled to start. Fortunately the family and friends gathered were able to move the funeral — flowers, programs guests, casket and all — to another location nearby.
Many of the mourners felt that Chavez’ refusal to allow the ceremony was unduly cruel, a final insult to a woman from a marginalized community.
“It was humiliating,” said Collier’s longtime friend Victoria Quintana to the Post. “It was devastating.”
“A church turning away a funeral. Who has ever heard of anything like that happening?” said another friend, Jeanette Arguello.
Collier died alone on Dec. 30 of a gunshot wound. Police told the Post that it is currently unclear whether the incident was an accident or suicide.
Protesters gathered outside New Hope Church on Tuesday, shouting “Give us an apology!” and “Shame on Pastor Ray!”
The Post said that a representative of the ministry hung up on their reporter after refusing to comment.