Remarks by a pastor who presided over the July 27 funeral service for Lashai Mclean, a transgender woman who was shot to death in D.C. last month, prompted as many as 100 people in attendance to walk out of the church in protest, according to activists who were present.
“Basically, he said that God let her get killed so that people could get saved,” said D.C. gay activist and comedian Sampson McCormack, who attended the service. “And that came after somebody, I think it was a deacon, said when you live a certain lifestyle this is the consequence you have to pay.”
McCormack and D.C. resident Arriel Horton said they knew Mclean and were among more than 300 people attending her funeral service at Purity Baptist Church near Capitol Hill.
D.C. police said Mclean, 23, was shot near the corner of 61st and Dix Streets, N.E., in a case where investigators have yet to determine a motive and to identify a suspect. Transgender activists say they are concerned that Mclean may have been targeted due to her status as a transgender woman, even though police say they have no immediate evidence to classify the incident as a hate crime.
McCormack and Horton told the Blade that a sermon delivered by Rev. A.W. Montgomery Sr., pastor of Agape Missionary Baptist Church in Suitland, Md., who presided over the funeral service, offended many of those in attendance, including many of Mclean’s transgender friends.
The two also said friends of Mclean became angry when clergy and others speaking at the service referred to Mclean as “he.” McCormack said many in the audience responded by shouting the word “she.”
In a telephone interview on Wednesday, Montgomery disputed claims that his remarks at the service were disrespectful or disparaging toward Lashai Mclean or the transgender community.
“My perception of some things is strictly from the perception of the Bible,” he said. “Sin is sin is sin. I don’t care who you are. There’s no perfect person on this planet. Whether you’re the pope or the poorest person, all of us sin. So my remarks would never be disparaging at all. I preached the Gospel. I don’t think I was harsh.”
Montgomery said he’s deeply saddened over Mclean’s untimely death. He said one of his objectives in delivering the eulogy was to comfort the family.
“I have nothing to do with Myles’ life choices,” he said. “And I don’t have a problem with Lashai. That’s what she decided to do. I decided to be a preacher,” he said.
“I will say this. We all make choices, and some choices are good and some choices are bad. And there’s consequences for all our choices, good and bad, and I would never say that in a disparaging way.”
Rev. Robin Toogood, pastor of Purity Baptist Church, said his church agreed to host the service after the funeral home that made the funeral arrangements approached him. He said funeral home officials told him that Montgomery’s church in Suitland, to which Mclean’s family members had ties, was too small to accommodate the number of people expected to attend the service.
Toogood said he gave welcoming remarks at the service before turning over the service to Montgomery.
Horton, who said he was a friend of Mclean’s, said people began to leave the church while Montgomery delivered the eulogy.
“Where I was sitting, most people walked out before he finished,” he said.
“I was just kind of stunned,” said McCormack. “I was just sitting there listening and I and the other people were looking at each other and people in the back just started getting up and left. It was like a mass exit.”
D.C. transgender activists Earline Budd and Jeri Hughes, who knew Lashai Mclean through their work with the D.C. transgender services organization Transgender Health Empowerment, said they recognize how Montgomery’s remarks could have been offensive to those attending the service, especially Mclean’s friends.
But the two noted that Mclean’s family members, who were struggling over Mclean’s status as a transgender woman, organized the service and selected Pastor Montgomery to preside. Budd said some of Mclean’s family members are members of Montgomery’s church.
“The pastor seemed to be more conciliatory after some people started to leave,” said Budd.
Hughes said she thought most of the people who walked out did so because the service lasted a long time and many were becoming tired.
“I wasn’t particularly offended, even though I didn’t agree with him,” Hughes said of Montgomery. “He was talking about what preachers talk about – sin and all of that. He’s just being a preacher.”