The Stories Project – The Rev. Rebecca Strader’s Story

These comments belong to the Reverend Rebecca Strader, Presbyterian Church (USA), pastor in Vermont. Following the murders of Julie Williams and Lollie Winans, it was she who revealed to the public after much soul-searching that the women were lesbians – a decision she was criticized for. All words below are hers unless specified otherwise.

TW: mentions of violence, murder.

My own journey has taken some turns in the intervening years since Julie and Lollie were murdered. The decision to give honest answers about Julie, rather than, “No comment,” was one that I would replicate. “No comment” as a way of citing confidentiality would have hinted at the same assumption, although also indicating that there was some shame involved. I imagine that not everyone would agree that I did the right thing. For that, I will remain eternally sorry.

It makes no sense, the violence that seems to come from a deep place in some people.  For a person to be “not male,” means that we are less worthy to be alive.  For a man to be gay appears to some people to be someone who rejected the male identity of someone who is “better than female.” For those people, there is no greater sin than being a gay male. Or being a lesbian who doesn’t accept her less-than role in life. 

I am fortunate to live in a state that has been a leader in rights for gays and lesbians.  Marriage is only one of the issues, but that institution has far-reaching implications for financial and familial security.  I still do not belong to a Christian denomination that will allow its clergy to officiate at same-gender marriages in a state that recognizes them.

I’m not sure that there will ever be enough evidence to convict the person who murdered Julie and Lollie.  But one day, I may again be summoned to Charlottesville, VA, to give testimony.  I am so sorry that the lives of two young women were cut short.  But I am glad that their gifts are remembered — not merely their “unfulfilled promise.”

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20 thoughts on “The Stories Project – The Rev. Rebecca Strader’s Story

  1. For what it’s worth, I understand why you decided to speak honestly. I see no shame in that, especially when that aspect of those young women’s lives may have been related to what happened to them. My regards to you and their families.

  2. “I am glad that their gifts are remembered — not merely their ‘unfulfilled promise.'”

    This is definitely important! It’s one of the reasons why I like reading these stories. They lived and they made a difference while they were alive.

    All my best. Thanks for sharing.

    Amy C

  3. I didn’t know Julie and Lollie personally. but I remember hearing about what happened to them, all those years ago. I was supposed to go on a backpacking trip that summer on the Appalachian Trail…I didn’t go.

    I know violence against women happens all over but you never expect it to happen in the one place you feel safe, which for me was the mountains…

    I really hope someone solves those cases one of these years and also the Colonial Parkway cases also in Virginia. I feel for everyone who’s still struggling to come to terms with those…that level of violence doesn’t make any sense.

  4. It’d be meaningless for someone like me who wasn’t involved to say you did or didn’t do the right thing, but I definitely respect you for making the decision you felt was right. There’s nothing shameful about love.

    Blessings to you,
    Laura

  5. I saw the Presbyterian Church (USA) voted this past week to allow pastors to marry same sex couples in the states where it’s legal. We’re making steps toward equality all the time!

  6. Brigitte: I’m so proud of the denomination I love for choosing to be on the right side of history. I wonder if the Rev. Strader has anything to say about that. I did notice her story was posted only a couple of months ago. How quickly things change!

  7. Stories of affirming clergy members make me happy. I was raised in the church but my church was NOT affirming of LGBT people (I’m a transgender lesbian).

    I tell people I left Christianity but I’ve always felt it was actually Christianity that left me. In spite of what I tell people, I never stopped believing.

  8. static noise, I’m a trans woman AND a practicing Catholic. I promise we exist. 🙂 I also felt “pushed out” of my religion and I struggled for many years reconciling my trans identity and my spirituality. You’re more than welcome to contact me if you ever want to talk about it (the admins should have our emails and can send you mine if you want) – I would be happy to speak with you any time! It can be done!

  9. It’s nice to see some stories from some people who are religious and still members of a church. Sometimes it’s really hard to reconcile being a Christian and being a lesbian or at least it has been for me…especially with all of the very vocal bigots out there…

    • Clara – no, they aren’t. In the early 2000s a suspect was arrested. but all charges against him were dismissed I think due to lack of evidence. Their case is still unsolved.

  10. Hello,

    Thank you for sharing your story. Like some of the others who have left messages, I understand why you chose to speak honestly. That had to be a difficult decision. I don’t know that I could have made a better one in your position. I hope one day there is enough evidence to bring the person who killed Julie and Lollie to justice.

    Regards,
    Christine

  11. I’ve read a little about the murders of Julie Williams and Lollie Winans. How sad and horrific. By all accounts they had many gifts that should be remembered. I’m glad they are. Add me to the list of people who completely understand and respect your decision to come forward.

  12. I appreciate your perspective. I tend to be kind of anti-marriage as an institution but you’re right it has far-reaching implications for financial/family security. thanks for sharing

    evelin

  13. Pingback: 2014 Year in Review | The Week of Action Movement

  14. fwiw i support the decision you made. i’m sure it wasn’t easy. i hope someday we will see their murders solved, from what i’ve read it sounds like they had a lot to offer the world

  15. I’m a little late to this conversation, but if anyone needs to talk, I’m also a member of the LGBT community and a practicing Christian. It’s totally possible to be both. 🙂

    Thanks to the Rev. Strader for sharing her story!

  16. “It makes no sense, the violence that seems to come from a deep place in some people. For a person to be ‘not male,’ means that we are less worthy to be alive. For a man to be gay appears to some people to be someone who rejected the male identity of someone who is ‘better than female.’ For those people, there is no greater sin than being a gay male. Or being a lesbian who doesn’t accept her less-than role in life.”

    I don’t have much to add, just wanted to say: all of this. ^^

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