Unfinished Lives

Remembering LGBT Hate Crime Victims

Gay/Lesbian Inclusive Nativity Scene Vandalized at Southern California Church

Gay/Lesbian Inclusive Nativity Scene Before Vandals Attacked (image courtesy of the church)

Claremont, California – Gay and lesbian images and a Star of Bethlehem were vandalized on Christmas at a local Claremont church. Between 11 a.m. on Saturday, Christmas Eve, and 9 a.m. Sunday, Christmas Day, vandals overturned two six-hundred-pound light boxes depicting same-sex couples in silhouette, leaving them face down on the lawn of Claremont United Methodist Church. A third light box depicting a heterosexual couple was left undisturbed.  Police are investigating the vandalism as a hate crime.  Because of the size of the panels and their weight, it is believed that a single person could not have carried out the crime. Over $3,000 worth of damage was caused to the installation.

The pastor, Rev. Dr. Sharon Rhodes-Wickett, says she and the church leadership have no doubts they did the right thing by displaying the controversial images.  The church has been a “Reconciling Ministries” congregation, welcoming LGBT people into the full life of the church, since 1993. She said that in view of the attack on the gay and lesbian panels of the display, the gay inclusive nativity exhibit was “exactly the right scene to put up,”  according to ABC 7 News.  CUMC is known for taking controversial stands on contemporary social issues, and they have displayed exhibits on the lawn concerning poverty, war, and illegal immigration in the past, for example–but this is the first time any scene at the church has been disturbed.

While no graffiti was left on the light boxes, the message was clear in the selection of which panels to turn over.  Sgt. Jason Walters of the Claremont Police Department said to the Daily Bulletin“It’s a hate crime based on it being church property as well as the wooden box knocked over that depicted two males holding hands.”  Police are reviewing surveillance video of the area to identify the perpetrators.  No suspects have been identified as of yet.

The artist who constructed the 6-foot-by-8-foot light boxes, John Zachary, was not surprised that the vandalism occurred. He said to ABC 7, “I think that it troubled a lot of people.”  Still, Zachary believes the display achieved its purpose by creating dialogue. “What I’ve tried to do is to include the people who’ve been disenfranchised from the church and from the process,” he said. Local residents range in opinion from support for the displays to disapproval of the subject, some of them saying to reporters that the depictions of same-sex couples for Christmas outside a church were “in poor taste.”

Associate Minister Dan Lewis told the Daily Bulletin, “We have members of our church who are gay and lesbian who it sends a very personal message to. I tried to say in worship on Sunday morning that we will not let it trouble us.” An interfaith community vigil in support LGBT people is planned at the site of the installation for Thursday at 7:30 p.m.  Still, one of the more disturbing aspects of the incident is that few of the residents of the area seem to care about the vandalism much at all.  One member of the LGBTQ community opined that it is easier to talk about being a liberal community than it is to do anything substantive about it.

December 29, 2011 - Posted by | Anti-LGBT hate crime, California, gay men, GLBTQ, Hate Crimes, Lesbian women, LGBTQ, Social Justice Advocacy, Unsolved LGBT Crimes, vandalism, Vigils | , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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