A field hospital that was set up in Central Park’s East Meadow to help coronavirus patients is operated by a homophobic non-profit led by bigoted religious leader Franklin Graham, raising serious concerns about whether queer patients at the pop-up spot could face discrimination.
In fact, Graham, who is the son of the late evangelical figure Billy Graham and has a history of spreading his anti-LGBTQ agenda, has already used the field hospital — operated by his North Carolina-based evangelical non-profit, Samaritan’s Purse — to push his religious beliefs, proving that even in a pandemic he is prioritizing religion over competence.
“If you are a Christian doctor, nurse, paramedic, or other medical professional interested in serving COVID-19 patients in our @SamaritansPurse Emergency Field Hospital in NYC, please visit samaritanspurse.org,” Graham said in a tweet on the afternoon of March 29.
The 68-bed field hospital, which the non-profit announced the opening of for March 31, drew immediate concern from out gay State Senator Brad Hoylman, whose Manhattan district borders the southwest corner of Central Park. The lawmaker called on the New York City Commission on Human Rights and the Mount Sinai Hospital network — which is partnering with Samaritan’s Purse on the park hospital operation — to monitor the non-profit’s actions in the park, saying that the city and hospital system must “ensure every LGBTQ patient is treated fairly.”
“COVID-19 doesn’t discriminate, and neither should Franklin Graham,” Hoylman stated. “It’s unacceptable that a New Yorker infected with COVID-19 could be subjected to discriminatory treatment from an organization whose leader calls us ‘immoral’ and ‘detestable.’”
Hoylman added, “I’m calling on Franklin Graham to publicly assure LGBTQ New Yorkers that they will receive the same treatment as anyone else at the Central Park field hospital… we’ll be watching.”
The current statement of faith on the Samaritan’s Purse website explicitly rejects queer relationships and, in doing so, somehow finds a way to sneak in a slight on transgender and non-binary individuals, as well.
“…God created man and woman as unique biological persons made to complete each other,” the statement notes. “God instituted monogamous marriage between male and female as the foundation of the family and the basic structure of human society. For this reason, we believe that marriage is exclusively the union of one genetic male and one genetic female.”
The non-profit’s 990 tax documents from 2018 made it clear that Samaritan’s Purse intends to inject its religious beliefs into the organization’s work, raising more red flags about the group’s intentions in Central Park.
“As a Christian ministry, we believe that marriage, between one man and one woman, was created by God,” the organization stated in those tax documents. “Samaritan’s Purse acknowledges the unique, distinct, and elevated role of marriage and the family, and we desire to affirm God’s design for marriage and the family as it pertains to carrying out our mission and ministry.”
On the evening of March 31, out gay City Council Speaker Corey Johnson released a written statement saying, “Franklin Graham has a long history of spewing anti-LGBTQ hate speech and I find it extremely troubling that he and his organization are involved in our relief efforts in any way. New York City is known around the world for our embrace of diversity and Franklin Graham has spent his career standing against these values. I will be monitoring this situation closely and making sure that our city’s values are being represented at all times.”
There appear to be few limits to Graham’s hateful agenda. In 2017, he voiced his opposition to a 2017 Congressional bill that would make conversion therapy illegal in the United States.
“Now Democrats are proposing a bill to ban conversion therapy in the United States, saying that LGBTQ people were born perfect,” Graham wrote in a Facebook post at the time. “Actually, they are very misled.”
Samaritan’s Purse’s policies and statement of faith have drawn the attention of those who have reviewed the necessary steps to volunteer with the organization. Kelli Dunham, a genderqueer comedian and author, tweeted out a snapshot of Samaritan’s Purse’s volunteer sign-up form, which states, “We ask that volunteers review our Statement of Faith and agree to support the ministry guidelines of Samaritan’s Purse.”
“This is scary as hell,” Dunham wrote in a tweet. “In order to volunteer with this organization, you have to affirm their anti-LGBT and anti-trans statement of belief. Well it didn’t take too long into the pandemic to throw queer folks under the bus!”
In a statement yesterday to Gothamist.com, a spokesperson for Mayor Bill de Blasio repeated the customary refrain the mayor uses when questioned about the city’s interactions with faith-based groups with anti-LGBTQ policies, saying, “Our record on human rights is clear.”
In a letter to Mount Sinai staff that acknowledged “the concerns about [Samaritan’s Purse’s] policies and political positions, especially when it comes to our LGBTQ community,” Dr. Dennis S. Charney, dean of the Icahn School of Medicine there, and Dr. David L. Reich, president and chief operating officer of the hospital, quoted de Blasio more fully, saying, “Mount Sinai was able to come to an agreement with Samaritan’s Purse to create this facility, and the city offered logistical support. Our record on human rights is clear, and we are confident that the joint effort by Mount Sinai and Samaritan’s Purse will save New Yorkers’ lives while adhering to the values we hold dear by providing care to anyone who needs it, regardless of background.”
As for Mount Sinai’s view of the matter, the two men wrote, “While we have strong differences of opinion with Samaritan’s Purse on this issue, this does not detract from our shared mission to save lives in our wonderfully multicultural and diverse city. While many in this nation could have responded to calls for help, Samaritan’s Purse not only responded, but did so in a fashion that no other organization could accomplish so rapidly.”
The letter also noted that Reich is “an LGBTQ person who has experienced decades of anti-LGBTQ sentiments. David believes that the higher mission at present is to preserve human life.”
The letter from Reich and Charney did not say whether Mount Sinai had raised Graham and Samaritan’s posture on LGBTQ rights with the non-profit, nor did it address Graham’s call for Christian medical personnel.
In a statement provided to Gay City News, the New York City Commission on Human Rights’ out lesbian chair, Carmelyn P. Malalis, did not directly mention Graham or Samaritan’s Purse, but she appeared to send a warning shot to those who dare to treat queer patients differently in the city.
“The New York City Commission on Human Rights enforces the New York City Human Rights Law, one of the most protective in the nation with over 25 protected classes,” Malalis said. “The full force of our law remains in effect and we must continue to uphold our mandate to protect the human rights of all New Yorkers, perhaps now more than ever. We encourage anyone who has been the victim of discrimination in New York City to report to the Commission by dialing 311 and asking for human rights.”
Those who would like to report discrimination can contact the Commission of Human Rights at 718-722-3131 or at 311.