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The Hollywood United Methodist Church has long been a staunch supporter of marriage equality, and decided to publicly show their support on a banner affixed to a fence outside the church at Highland and Franklin Avenues.
On Jan. 31, members of the congregation were outraged when someone defaced the banner by cutting out the word “Equality” from a phrase that read, “We Will Always Support Marriage Equality” on the banner. Members of the congregation put up a new banner on Feb. 6 that read: “Dear Vandals: You Can Cut the Word Equality Out of Our Banner, But You Can’t Cut the Message Out Of Our Church. We Will Always Support Marriage Equality.” On March 2, the banner was defaced again by someone who cut out the word “Equality”.
Police have launched an investigation into the incidents, and at this time are considering them as cases of vandalism as opposed to hate crimes, but that may change once a motive is determined and who is involved. Rev. Kathy Cooper-Ladesma, who heads the congregation at Hollywood United Methodist Church, said she was shocked to learn the vandalism had occurred a second time.
“The banner was fine, and then around three o’clock, one of the parishioners called and said it had happened again,” Cooper-Ladesma said. “This time it happened in broad daylight, and at one of the busiest intersection in Los Angeles. We believe it is the same person who doesn’t believe in the message we are putting forth. They are sending a clear message that they don’t believe a church should believe in equality.”
Cooper-Ladesma said the vandalism occurred sometime between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. on March 2, and said she hopes someone saw what happened and will report the information to the police. She added that the incident has upset many people in the 350-member congregation, but has also inspired the church to continue pushing for marriage equality. The vandalized banner will remain up until early next week when the church replaces it with an announcement about Easter, but Cooper-Ladesma said plans call for a new banner with the marriage equality message to be created and put up again after Easter.
“Some folks were absolutely heartbroken. They were in disbelief that this could happen,” Cooper-Ladesma said. “We are supposedly in a place that believes in marriage equality, so it was very disheartening.”
Capt. Beatrice Girmala, the commanding office of the Los Angeles Police Department’s Hollywood Division, said officials are very concerned about the incidents. She has taken a personal interest in catching the perpetrator, and said people could call her office directly at (213)972-2900 to report information about the crime. Girmala added that it appears the incident was motivated by hate, but at this time, police have no leads.
“The Los Angeles Police Department has a zero tolerance policy of hatred or any type of discrimination. We were absolutely outraged that this is going on, and have reached out to the church and had the senior lead officer from that area speak to them about the situation,” Girmala said. “We are doing our utmost to see if there is any community information that will lead to the arrest of the hateful vandals. We take this very seriously because small acts of vandalism are a precursor to something else.”
The vandalism was also denounced by members of the LGBT community, including the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center, which is located in Hollywood.
“Despicable acts like this demonstrate the persistence of anti-LGBT prejudice and also the necessity of continuing to fight it,” said Dave Fleischer, director of the Center’s Leadership LAB, which includes the Vote for Equality program, the LGBT Mentoring Project and the Emerging Leaders program. “We are grateful that the Hollywood United Methodist Church has stood side by side with the LGBT community in support of marriage equality and are sorry that as a result they were targeted for vandalism. We look forward to being in the trenches together in the future.”
Cooper-Ladesma said the church has for years been at the forefront of equality issues, and supports the rights of all people to marry. Hollywood United Methodist Church dates back 102 years, and has been located at the corner of Highland and Franklin Avenues for the past 82 years. The church is identifiable by the large red ribbons affixed to the wall in support of people suffering with HIV and AIDS that were put up in 1993.
“They are not going to bully us,” Cooper-Ladesma added. “It really has strengthened our resolve to fight for marriage equality for all of God’s children.”
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