UCC leaders, members call for inclusive hate crime legislation
Written by Anthony Moujaes May 2, 2013
Responding to the brutal murder of a young transgender woman in the Cleveland area, leaders and members of the United Church of Christ joined dozens of people Wednesday afternoon in a show of support outside Cleveland City Hall. The rally, which honored Cemia "Ce Ce" Dove, was also an opportunity to shine a light on the concerns that LGBT persons have no protection against hate crimes under Ohio law.
That, the Rev. Michael Schuenemeyer said, must change.
"We need to be here because we need to get the message out that violence against anyone in our community will not be tolerated," said Schuenemeyer, the UCC's executive for LGBT concerns.
"One of the things we're struggling for is legislation that is explicably inclusive of LGBT people," Schuenemeyer said. He and others at the rally also spoke for improved reporting on all victims of hate crimes. "And there needs to be sensitivity in dealing with hate crimes from the police and the media."
A group of close to 100 people — some of them LGBT advocates, and others clergy — from the Northeast Ohio community gathered at 3 p.m. May 1 for a rally, blocking off sidewalk in front of the steps to city hall in honor of Dove. The issue was important enough to the mayor's office and the city council that a blue, pink and white transgender flag flew from the building's flagpole a few hundred feet in the air.
"The transgender flag is flying high today," said Jacob Nash, a member of Fairlawn West UCC in Akron, transgender activist and rally organizer. "For the middle of the day, it's amazing to have this many people come out."
Dove, 20, from Cleveland, was stabbed to death, and authorities found her body April 17 in a pond in Olmsted Township, west of Cleveland. She was reported missing March 27.
There was a rope around her waist tied to a concrete block and a steel pipe, police said, and her body was decomposed, indicating she had been in the water for an extended time. She was born Carl Acoff and was identified earlier as Cemia Acoff. Her friends said she went by Cemia Dove.
"We want to express to Ce Ce's family, and those who knew her and loved her, the UCC's heartfelt condolences," Schuenemeyer said.
"We want to remember her and the ramifications of how it affected the community, and how to make the community more understanding [of LGBT persons] and safer [from hate crimes]," he added.
Nash also said the UCC's stance in support of LGBT persons was important. "When a church comes out and stands with LGBT people, it shows there is a place for you to go," he said.
Char Ligo, a member of Plymouth UCC in Cleveland who works at the Human Rights Campaign — the largest LGBT advocacy group in the United States — said she was heartbroken when she learned of Dove's murder.
"I felt anger, and frustration and impatience that we're still going through [LGBT hate crimes]," she said. "It's 2013."
Since 1969, governing bodies of the UCC have addressed the concerns of LGBT people in church and society, calling for welcome, inclusion and justice.
The 24th General Synod of the UCC in 2003 adopted resolutions calling for hate crime policies and the inclusion of transgender persons in the full life and ministry of the church.
The Rev. Malcolm Himschoot, the UCC's minister for ministerial transitions in Local Church Ministries, said that education is an essential part of treating LGBT people with dignity.
"I've had many people wonder out loud to me how to refer to others when their gender is unknown, or in process, or differs from their own experience," said Himschoot. "Teaching respect is as important as teaching terminology, and in the church I believe we can be guided by the best in God-given human dignity, as well as resources put out by educational groups."