By Mike Neubecker
Today I went to pay my respects to Nikki (Anthony Lionell Nicholas) who was murdered by at least one unknown assailant in late February. Nikki, who was born a male to his mother, was living as a woman for the last two years.
I had a chance to talk with her mother, Alfrieda, about PFLAG and how the death of her son is being held in the hearts and minds of PFLAG members across the country. I told her that she should be proud of what a good mother she is in the way she supported Nikki with the love and acceptance she needed. She appreciated hearing these words and thanked me for being there.
Family and friends paid their respects and shared memories using both pronouns “he” and “she” depending on how they knew her best. She had her family of origin as well as her trans-family present on this day. I found the family to be very accepting and comforting. The funeral program didn’t try to hide who Nikki was and included pictures of her as a child, with her siblings and on stage as an entertainer. I was particularly touched by remarks made by Nikki’s sister about how Nikki was a ball of energy and was always wearing out her hair irons and curlers.
The trans-family that surrounded Nikki lined up to share their memories and thoughts but were eventually cut off before all could speak. Elder Willie Parker Sr. was delivering the spiritual message of the day with prayers, scripture readings and finally the “official” eulogy. His eulogy started out in an understanding way with comments about not judging others and so forth, but soon judgment was flying from his mouth and turned into a tirade about God’s dress code.
“You just can’t go around dressing anyway you want to dress!” His so-called eulogy included comments about how people choose and make decisions about how to live their life and how “Anthony chose to walk down the path that he did.”
“The wages of sin is death,” was repeated a couple of times in the service, and I couldn’t help but be disgusted by this homophobic and transphobic so-called eulogy.
Supporters and this critic of Nikki had used the same phrase, “God doesn’t make mistakes,” but it had completely opposite meanings by each.
The eulogizer was not a minister but an elder and Nikki’s step-grandfather. He did not see how the power of his words did more to justify Nikki’s killing than to call for justice and understanding. Do I think he did this maliciously to do harm? Of course not. In his ignorance he did what he knew best which is the real problem … ignorance equals hate.
When I walked out on this litany of spiritual violence, I found Nikki’s trans-friends already gathered in the hallway together consoling each other on their loss. From their loss they understood more personally than ever before the danger and fear that they must live with each day – just for being themselves. In my perception, they were in the hallway to avoid hearing this final assault on Nikki and her memory because they already knew how the fundamental preaching always seems to turn on them as “the problem” and thus tear at their spirits and their very being.
I attended this funeral to make a statement about PFLAG’s support for Nikki and all transgender persons and to support the family. The unintended last statement I made was to walk out in the middle of this hateful and judgmental eulogy to reject the narrow-minded preaching message that would be far more comforting to Nikki’s killer than to her mother. This was one final assault on Nikki and who she was.
Nikki was killed out of hate and ignorance, but, sadly, that very negative force had to make a final appearance and make a final assault on her when she was publicly remembered for the last time. I consider this kind of religious bigotry to be the real SIN of fundamentalist Christianity; it is the source and justification for the hate that causes so much violence and death.
So I guess the scripture is correct … the wages of sin, is death.