Rest in peace, Diamond Williams

The Rev. James St. George leads the graveside funeral service for Diamond Williams.

I STOOD OVER the fresh grave at St. Miriam Cathedral in Flourtown just as the sun was beginning to set the other night and whispered a long-overdue farewell.

"Rest in peace, Diamond."

I never met Diamond Williams, the 31-year-old transgender woman who was brutally murdered and dismembered in 2013. But for the last two years I was determined that she would not go unclaimed in death the way she had in life.

It took a village of compassionate and generous people to make this happen, but it finally did after GALAEI, a queer Latino social-justice organization in North Philly, answered my call to claim the ashes that still sat in the Medical Examiner's Office a year after she was cremated. And, after the Rev. James St. George read about Diamond in the Daily News and offered his church and cemetery to lay her to rest more two years after her death.

Father Jim was saddened when he read about how no one came forward to claim Diamond. And to be honest, he said, more than a little angry.

How does a family abandon a child? How does society abandon a fellow human being?

His incredible act of generosity was about giving Diamond some dignity. But it was also about extending a welcome to others who struggle every day to be accepted and respected. So it was fitting that on the morning of Nov. 14, he stood in front of friends who finally had a chance to properly mourn:

"I would like to begin by welcoming all of you who are LGBTQ. I would like you to know that I realize that this may not be the most comfortable place for you, and on behalf of God and God's holy church I offer my apologies for that," he said. "There is a deep history where the church has not been kind and welcoming to you, and I hope and pray that today you might find some comfort here and realize that you are welcome here and you are loved by a gracious God and that that gracious God is here for you today."

Father Jim knows a little something about being shunned. In 2011, St. George - pastor of an Old Catholic Church that performs commitment ceremonies for gays and lesbians - was fired when Catholic administrators at Chestnut Hill College learned that the highly regarded adjunct professor is gay.

There were moments in those dark days when he thought he'd walk into his church and it would be empty. There was a moment, fleeting as it was, when he wondered if his decision to bury Diamond might not sit well with parishioners.

He thinks he lost a parishioner after announcing he would bury Diamond. But he has no regrets.

Taking in Diamond is in line with his faith, and with the God he believes in.

"Today, Diamond is home," he told the mourners before thanking them for being there for Diamond and encouraged them to keep the faith.

"We have work to do, we have people to protect," he said. "Do not give into hatred. Do not allow others to tell you that you are imperfect because you are whole and you are loved and you are beautiful and you are welcome."

Before the box holding Diamond's ashes was placed in the ground, Father Jim discreetly removed the label with the male name that hadn't been legally changed before her death.

"God knows who she is," he said.


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