Queer flags of all stripes were on display Saturday morning, May 16, as several dozen members of Reclaim Pride, Rise and Resist, and Reverend Billy Talen’s Stop Shopping Choir turned out in Central Park’s East Meadow to exorcise the demons left by the hospital tents that had been established there by Franklin Graham’s Samaritan’s Purse.
Facing increased pressure from LGBTQ activists and elected officials, Graham, an anti-LGBTQ and anti-Muslim extremist, announced on May 2 that his charity would leave the park and end its relationship with Mount Sinai-Beth Israel Hospital. The announcement came two days after Mayor Bill de Blasio expressed “concern” when asked by Gay City News about Samaritan Purse’s use of images of doctors ministering to Central Park COVID-19 patients on its online fundraising page.
Graham, the son of the late preacher Billy Graham, has quoted the Bible’s Leviticus to describe same-sex relationships as an “abomination,” championed conversion therapy, condemned transgender identity and abortion rights, and described Islam as an “evil religion” and Mormonism as a “cult.” When Samaritan’s Purse set up camp in Central Park in late March, the group tweeted out an appeal for any “Christian doctor, nurse, paramedic, or other medical professional interested in serving COVID-19 patients” in its facility.”
During its time in Central Park, Samaritan’s Purse treated 300 patients or less than one percent of the 43,676 people who had been hospitalized in the city for COVID-19 by the time it announced its departure.
At the May 16 cleansing of the Central Park site, with marshals enforcing six-foot separation among activists, Natalie James made introductions, followed by Reverend Billy who condemned the homophobic and transphobic “Statement of Faith” that Samaritan’s Purse required volunteers to sign. He described the East Meadow as a place of “real love.”
The Stop Shopping Choir then led the crowd in a call and repeat song
And when I rise
Let me rise
Like a bird
When I fall
Let me fall
Like a leaf
When I stand
Let me stand
Like a tree
Strong and tall
When I lay
Let me lay
Like a lake
When I resist
I will resist
Like the sea
When I speak
I will speak
Like the wind
Loud and free
Activist Ann Northrop — who, with Reverend Billy, was one of only two people given a summons at a May 3 Reclaim Pride press conference outside Mount Sinai-Beth Israel Hospital in the East Village denouncing Franklin’s presence in the city — then spoke briefly, ending by saying, “Hate is gone.”
Rather than burning sage and inviting police intervention this weekend, the crowd instead blew bubbles.
Though a few police cars swung by to look at the demonstration, none stopped.
Some passersby joined the cleansing, each instructed to observe the six-foot separation rule.
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