Vanessa Collier, a lesbian Coloradan who died on December 30 while cleaning her gun, was denied a funeral service at Denver’s New Hope Ministries because her family refused to edit out pictures of Collier kissing her wife in a video tribute to the departed, BuzzFeed reports. Collier was 33 and is survived by two girls, 7 and 11, and her wife, Christina Higley.
The video in question had been provided to the church 48 hours in advance, however, the church lost the copy and did not review a copy until the morning of the ceremony. The result was that when the family refused to give in to Pastor Ray Chavez’s ultimatum to remove the photos of Collier and Higley kissing from the video, the service was cancelled after it had already begun:
“People started taking their seats at 10 a.m.,” [Collier’s friend Jose] Silva said. “At 10:15, the pastor said, ‘Due to technical difficulties, the funeral is being moved.’” He thought it was a joke. “I thought we were being punked.”
Friends and family had to pick up Collier’s open casket, flowers and other arrangements and move it to the Newcomer Funeral Home across the street.
“They don’t want overt, open homosexuality in their sanctuary,” said Gary Rolando, the chaplain who eventually conducted Collier’s service at the Newcomer Funeral Home, across the street from the church.
Higley later posted an emotional update on Facebook (below), asking, “Please I am begging anyone to help explain to our children why our life together as a family is any less than anyone else’s and inappropriate in a house of God?”
Collier’s friends and family were quick to organize a “Dignity in Death Rally” to show their outrage over New Hope and Pastor Chavez’s decision to expel Collier and her mourners.
Nearly 1,600 people have signed a change.org petition calling on Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper to “protect the rights of gays and their families in death.”