By Natalie J
In late March I was shocked to learn that in the midst of the horrific COVID-19 pandemic, New York City and Mt. Sinai Hospital had decided to partner with notoriously far-right, anti Muslim and anti LGBTQ+ Franklin Graham, leader of Samaritan’s Purse. Samaritan’s Purse’s 68 bed Mount Sinai extension in iconic Central Park is an incredible platform both for Franklin Graham’s bigoted views and for fundraising—Samaritan’s Purse raises $500 million in annual revenue per year through its savvy and extremely effective fundraising and media operations. In fact, Franklin Graham, whose personal worth is likely over $20 million, held his broadly televised Easter service right next to the Central Park tents this year.
Following the heroic arrest of long time leftist activist Reverend Billy due to his April 4 planting of a rainbow flag in the Central Park ground near the Samaritan’s Purse tents, I decided that there should also be a queer activist response, and began reaching out to various quomrades from the Reclaim Pride Coalition (RPC) to discuss taking action. We quickly formed the RPC COVID-19 Response Working Group. Less than a year ago, on June 30, 2019, RPC mobilized 45,000 people on the 50th Anniversary of the Stonewall Riots for the Queer Liberation March. This was a people’s protest march, without corporate floats or a police contingent, which retraced the steps of the original 1970 Pride March, starting our march at the Stonewall and ending in Central Park. We were now preparing for another Central Park protest action, this time under very different circumstances.
Recognizing that NYC is in the midst of a pandemic, we did not call for the Samaritan’s Purse Central Park operation to be shut down. Instead, we planned a socially distanced press conference and demonstration with a view of the Samaritan’s Purse tents in the background to call attention to the group’s bigotry and to make demands regarding their continued operations. One demand is that Samaritan’s Purse drop their requirement that all volunteers and staff sign on to their transphobic and homophobic “Statement of Faith”. A volunteer named Timothy Lunceford-Stevens had been turned away by Samaritan’s Purse for refusing to sign this “Statement of Faith.” He reached out to us and agreed to speak at our press conference.
The “Statement of Faith” includes the phrases: “God’s plan for human sexuality is to be expressed only within the context of marriage” and “we believe that marriage is exclusively the union of one genetic male and one genetic female.” These phrases go beyond attacking gay marriage—they are a direct assault on transgender and non-binary people, and an attack on human sexuality writ large. And beyond being a failure of basic moral standards, Samaritan Purse’s “Statement of Faith” requirement may be in violation of City and State Law. New York City and New York State Human Rights Law prohibit employers from discriminating in the workplace on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, and other protected categories. Both laws also bar discrimination in the provision of services to the public.
At the April 14 press conference, we emphasized that Health Care must not come at the cost of basic human rights, and we formally announced the following demands:
1. Samaritan’s Purse drop its requirement for employees and volunteers to sign their “Statement of Faith.”
2. The New York City Human Rights Commission conduct an investigation of whether Samaritan’s Purse’s hiring policies are in violation of City and/or State Law.
3. Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio and Mt. Sinai publish their plans to monitor Samaritan Purse’s work for non-discrimination and medical competence.
4. The New York State Governor’s Office and the New York City Mayor’s Office publicize whether Samaritan’s Purse is receiving public money and make clear who approved their Central Park facility.
In support of the demands we had several other speakers. These included an outraged former Mt. Sinai Hospital employee, a representative from the first HIV-AIDS institutional service provider, Gay Men’s Health Center (which endorsed our demands), ACT UP veterans, and others. ACT UP is an activist group which emerged in the 1980s and 90s to battle the HIV/AIDS epidemic when government and society utterly failed to act to save lives. The masks we wore at the press conference had ACT UP’s motto on them: silence=death. ACT UP’s courageous activism is credited with saving millions of lives, and we found inspiration from them in holding our action.
The RPC press conference was a great success, generating extensive local, national, and international media coverage. We also had the pleasure of being listed in The NY Times interview with Franklin Graham as a source of his personal “harassment,” along with eight US Congress members (including AOC) and the NYC Human Rights Commission. We are now turning to online campaigns targeting Samaritan’s Purse, Governor Cuomo, Mayor Di Blasio, and Mt. Sinai leadership to continue to press for our demands—join in at @queermarch on Instagram and Twitter using the hashtag, #HealthNotHate! 😊✊🏳️🌈