Out of Hate, Comes Hope

Out of Hate, Comes Hope

Activist organizations, religious groups, political bodies and companies have banded together to create a foundation, The Cypress Project, which will support any person in Virginia who is the victim of a hate crime.

The foundation, whose creation was announced two weeks ago, was established as a response to a residential vandalism in Aldie, which the Sheriff's Office is investigating as a hate crime.

July 29, deputies responded to the home, on the 24000 block of Laceys Tavern Court, where they discovered 70 cypress saplings had been cut down and 100 boxwood bushes had been pulled from the ground. Gasoline was poured over a portion of the front lawn. Antigay slang was spray painted on the driveway, mailbox, the street in front of the house and on the lawn.

The Cypress Project, which was named for the trees that were destroyed in Aldie, was created in the few days that followed the incident, David Weintraub, president of the gay rights group Equality Loudoun, said, because of the overwhelming response from the community.

"After talking to [the homeowners], it was clear they wanted to turn it into something positive," Weintraub said.

THE CYPRESS PROJECT has brought statements and support from groups and people across the county, of both conservative and liberal ideologies.

The Community Levee Association of Loudoun County put out a statement condemning the vandalism.

"We do not, in any way, believe that you should attack or harm someone because they believe something different than you," president Chris Stevenson said.

Weintraub said he was very happy to see the statement from the Levee Association, which has been active in its support of traditional marriage.

"We've been vocal in our opposition to same-gender marriage," Stevenson said, "but we believe everyone should be able to believe what they believe without fear."

Religious organizations, including several Unitarian Universalist churches, have endorsed the foundation's mission of providing "healing and restoration of those targeted by antigay hate crimes."

"A tenet of our faith is the inherent worth and dignity of all people," Terri Glass, board member of the Unitarian Universalists of Sterling, said in an e-mail, "so any idea that marginalizes or degrades even a single human life runs contrary to our beliefs."

Many political figures, including the Leesburg Town Council, who passed a resolution in response to the hate crime, have spoken out against the incident. Supervisor Sally Kurtz (D-Catoctin) and Sen. Mark Herring (D-33) have endorsed the foundation's mission.

"There is no way to directly prevent people from behaving this way," Weintraub said. "All of us joining together and saying this is not acceptable is the best way to prevent a copycat crime."

THE PROJECT'S FIRST action will take place Saturday, Oct. 14, when the foundation holds a work day to replant the trees that were cut down on the Aldie property.

"People can sign up to work on the 14th or if someone simply wants to sponsor a tree in their name, they can do that," Weintraub said. He added the response to the work day has been overwhelming.

"When [The Cypress Project] gave us the opportunity to turn something hurtful into something community building and life affirming, we were glad to pitch in," Glass said.

While many of the people involved with The Cypress Project are also working to defeat the proposed amendment to Virginia's constitution that would define marriage as being between a man and a woman, Weintraub said the foundation is not involved in that fight.

"It was intended to be strictly endorsing a condemnation of hate crimes," he said. "It was formed to restore these victims, this crime, but then we decided to leave it in place as a foundation in case something else happens."

What has happened in the month since the hate crime occurred in Aldie is that the neighborhood is stronger than ever, Weintraub said.

"The response from neighbors has been great," he said. "I don't think it had the effect [the perpetrators] were hoping for."

The Sheriff's Office has received no additional information about the hate crime, spokesperson Kraig Troxell said, although they are continuing to investigate the crime.

"I don't even think we have a description of a possible suspect," Troxell said.

Anyone with information about the incident is encouraged to call the Sheriff's Criminal Investigation Division at 703-777-0475. To place an anonymous tip, call Crime Solvers at 703-777-1919. A caller with information that leads to an arrest and an indictment could be eligible for a reward up to $1,000.