A church in Colorado canceled a woman’s funeral at the last minute because she was a lesbian. Vanessa Collier, 33, was killed on December 30 in Denver when her gun went off as she was cleaning it. When her loved ones gathered to celebrate Collier’s life, they were cast out by the church.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. The Funeral Was Called Off 15 Minutes After It Was Due to Start
Hundreds of friends and loved ones gathered for Collier’s funeral at the New Hope Ministries chapel in Lakewood, Colorado, on January 10. The church was packed, with the open casket on display. At the last minute, the church canceled the funeral after learning that a tribute video would include photos of Collier kissing her wife, Christina Higley. Collier’s family refused to edit the video at the request of the church’s founder, Pastor Ray Chavez. The funeral had been due to start at 10 a.m. At 10:15 a.m. those at the chapel were told that due to technical difficulties, the service was being moved to a nearby funeral home.
The Denver Post reports that distraught mourners had to help carry flowers, while pallbearers were forced to load Collier’s casket back into the hearse for the drive to the nearby Newcomer Funeral Home.
2. Her Friends Have Organized ‘Dignity in Death’ Protests
Collier’s family and friends are outraged and have organized protests at the New Hope chapel. One friend, Jose Silva, told ABC Denver:
I am a child of a lesbian mother and if my mom was to die, I would want “Dignity in her Death. I am against bigotry and stand with my friend Vanessa Collier’s family in seeking an apology and refund from Pastor Ray Chavez and New Hope Ministries. The acts that took place at her funeral were wrong and no family should ever have to go through that.
On his Facebook page, Silva was similarly outraged:
As a Christian I am ashamed of what I witnessed today and disgusted in a pastor I once had respect for. We are all Gods children and will be judged upon the golden gates. Today at a funeral for a friend who God made Lesbian, the service was abruptly moved do to “Technical Difficulties” after it was to already have started. His reason was because he don’t believe in same sex marriages but he knew this prior and holds funerals for murderers and those that die of drug overdoses. I will never step foot back into New Hope Ministries, a church I once called home.
The protests have been given the moniker “Dignity in Death,” reports NBC Denver. One sign at a protest outside New Hope on January 13 read, “You will not find Jesus at New Hope but you will find hypocrisy,” reports the Denver Post.
3. A Pastor at the Chapel Said the Church Didn’t Want ‘Open Homosexuality’
The funeral was finally held at the Newcomer Funeral Home, with Chaplain Gary Rolando presiding, reports the Denver Channel. Rolando told the station he knew that Collier lived “an alternative lifestyle,” adding that he is a friend of Collier’s father. He said the New Hope chapel didn’t want “overt, open homosexuality.”
According to the New Hope website, Ray Chavez founded the church along with his wife in 1981. He says on the website that his chapel “is a place where those bound by drugs, alcohol, gangs and violence can find an ‘Ounce of Hope.'” He also says on the site, “We’re a center of Hope – with hands of Mercy.”
4. Collier Is Survived by Her Wife & 2 Kids
According to her Facebook page, Vanessa Collier got engaged to Christina Higley in June 2013, and they’d been together since 2012. Though both refer to each other as the other’s wife on Facebook, there is no indication of a wedding. In her obituary, Collier is referred to as Higley’s partner.
The couple had two children. According to her obituary, Collier and Higley’s daughters are named Kylee and Maddison. Collier was a native of Colorado, with her wife hailing from California. The couple moved to the Denver area in November 2014.
5. The Chapel Is ‘Very Sorry’
Chaplain Rolando told the Denver Channel that “New Hope is very sorry” and “I’m sorry this happened the way it did.” He added that the church gave the Collier family back the $400 they paid for the funeral. On a Facebook page for the protest, it states that the money is yet to be repaid.