Fierce LGBTQ opposition to the expanding alliance of Mount Sinai Beth Israel (MSBI) Hospital with the anti-LGBTQ Franklin Graham’s Samaritan’s Purse this week led the hospital to say on Saturday that it will take down the groups tents in Central Park and not go forward with continued staffing from Samaritan’s Purse at MSBI downtown.
Franklin Graham is a miracle worker. For years, he has held down two full-time jobs — with his Samaritan’s Purse international “relief” charity and with his Billy Graham Evangelistic Association — yielding an annual salary well in excess of a million dollars.
And despite being famous for anti-LGBTQ and anti-Muslim bigotry for decades, he was engaged by Dr. David Reich, the out gay head of a Jewish hospital, to set up a field hospital in Central Park across from Mount Sinai Hospital to assist Mount Sinai during the early catastrophic days of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Bigoted, proselytizing Samaritan’s Purse will finally depart NYC after boasting online of its miracle works
Though the demand for hospital beds had subsided substantially and the USNS Comfort hospital ship had set sail from New York, Mount Sinai was going to maintain free supplemental services from Samaritan’s Purse. The tents in Central Park were going to fold, but the Samaritan’s Purse personnel — required to affirm a “Statement of Faith” that condemns marriage equality among other things — were beginning to run a ward at the re-opened Beth Israel division of Mount Sinai (MSBI) on First Avenue and 16th Street. That site will be the scene of a socially distanced protest, live-streamed on Facebook, by Reclaim Pride on Sunday at 1 p.m. Eastern.
The threat of that protest and condemnations by elected officials including City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and State Senator Brad Hoylman and Councilmember Carlina Rivera, who represent the district where Beth Israel sits and were blindsided by the proposed move, led to the cancelation of the MSBI-Samaritan’s Purse continued arrangement.
On Saturday, Mount Sinai and Samaritan’s Purse issued a joint statement saying their “partnership has resulted in high-quality medical care for 315 patients infected with the virus” and how “grateful” they were for opportunity to work together. Following the protests, which were not acknowledged, they say they “anticipate” that Samaritan’s Purse will “decontaminate and remove the tents” from the park and “also wind down their support of Mount Sinai Beth Israel hospital over the next two weeks.”
In response to the developments, Hoylman said, “I remain baffled by the ongoing relationship between Mt. Sinai and the hateful Franklin Graham and his Samaritan’s Purse, which at this point includes a promotional video from both institutions. It’s good that Mt. Sinai is taking steps to end it and provide a timeline for Franklin Graham’s exit from a city where LGBTQ people are respected and valued. While Samaritan’s Purse will be here for another two weeks, I’m afraid the consequences of this poisonous relationship will linger.”
The pending action by Reclaim Pride at Beth Israel, which had protested weeks ago in Central Park outside the Samaritan’s Purse tents, put the pain of the LGBTQ community and the bigotry of Franklin Graham in stark relief.
Ann Northrop, of the Reclaim Pride Coalition COVID-19 Response Working Group, said, “It is horrifying that Mt. Sinai and New York City would welcome the hateful Franklin Graham to come here, let alone in the midst of this deadly crisis. For all his promises of non-discrimination, the fact is that Franklin Graham has been ranting for years that LGBT people are a threat to children and Islam is an evil religion. He also says proselytizing for Jesus is his highest priority, even in his provision of medical care. We don’t need Franklin Graham in New York City.”
Jay W. Walker, also of Reclaim Pride Coalition, said, “I was stunned to learn in late March of the unholy arrangement between a medical institution of national standing, Mt. Sinai, and a far right vehicle for bigotry and opportunistic fundraising and proselytizing in the form of Samaritan’s Purse.”
Graham has been condemned by the NAACP for “using Christianity as a political weapon.” He has said, “True Islam cannot be practiced in this country” and tried to stop an Islamic cultural center from being built near the World Trade Center. He supported Trump’s call for “a total Muslim ban” in the 2106 campaign. He has condemned Hinduism. He said that “Mormonism is not a Christian faith.” He worked hard in his home state of North Carolina in 2012 to ban not just same-sex marriages, but domestic partnerships. His bigotry is so vile that 10 venues in the United Kingdom canceled his bookings for crusades earlier this year. When Graham attacked former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg for being gay, Republican columnist Jennifer Rubin said Graham was “a hypocritical bigot” who “has rationalized Trump’s infidelity and racism, ignored his lies, cheered his inhumane immigration policy, and behaved as a political hack rather than a religious leader.”
Graham has even praised Russian strongman Vladimir Putin for taking “a stand to protect his nation’s children from the damaging effects of any gay and lesbian agenda.”
Asked about the hospital’s knowledge of and take on Graham’s bigotry, Jason Kaplan, Mount Sinai’s spokesperson, repeatedly said as the furor grew, “We have a difference of opinion” with him, but he would not condemn Graham’s views.
“When it comes to COVID-19,” Kaplan said, “we are fully united: we will care for everyone and no patients or staff will be discriminated against,” which is demonstrably false since no one can work with Samaritan’s Purse who does not subscribe to Graham’s toxic brand of Christianity.
Kaplan said on April 30 that he was unaware of the planned move of Samaritan’s Purse from the park to Beth Israel — though an internal memo on April 21 from Dr. Jeremy Boal, president of Beth Israel, announced it to the MSBI staff and was leaked to Reclaim Pride.
Johnson, the city’s out gay Council speaker, on May 1 said, “At the City Council, we are committed to supporting those workers and protecting our city’s public health. But as a city that values diversity and compassion for all, we cannot continue to allow a group with the track record of Samaritan’s Purse to remain here when we are past the point they are needed. Mount Sinai must sever its relationship with Samaritan’s Purse. Its leader calls the LGBTQ community ‘detestable’ and ‘immoral.’ He says being gay is ‘an affront to God,’ and refers to gay Christians as ‘the enemy.’ Samaritan’s Purse requires its volunteers to agree to a written affirmation ‘that marriage is exclusively the union of one genetic male and one genetic female.’ Hate has no place in our beautiful city.”
Hoylman, who is also gay, was “outraged” to learn that Samaritan’s Purse was setting up shop in his district at Beth Israel — now Mount Sinai’s downtown branch.
On April 30 Hoylman said, “On behalf of the LBGTQ community I represent, I demand they end their association with Franklin Graham and Samaritan’s Purse or risk further reputational harm with LGBTQ New Yorkers and the wider public.”
Hoylman confronted Beth Israel’s Boal about allying with Graham.
“He claimed there were no other volunteers who came forward,” Hoylman told Gay City News.
Boal did not return a call from Gay City News for comment.
Boal’s internal staff memo praised Samaritan Purse’s work abroad, but no one connected to the hospital seemed aware of its malfeasance including setting up a field hospital in Liberia in 2014 during an Ebola outbreak and cutting and running once two staff got infected.
“Dr. Boal said Samaritan’s Purse would have its own separate floor and that the Beth Israel chaplain would monitor to make sure there was no proselytization of patients,” Holyman said.
But Samaritan’s Purse had already commandeered an open space in the heart of the nation’s most diverse city and put up tents festooned with its advertising and jackets emblazoned with the group’s name, using the space not just for urgent health care, but to hold religious services — a big nationally televised one on Easter Sunday led by Graham — and to engage in its primary mission, which is raising money and winning souls for a God they say abhors homosexuality.
That was a tremendous fundraising opportunity for Samaritan’s Purse, and the group posted video of themselves ministering to dying patients, pictures of nurses with Bible verses on their facemasks and Scripture taped to life support machines, and a video on the group’s donor page of the grotesque spectacle of Mount Sinai president David Reich with Franklin Graham — who calls same-sex marriages such as Reich’s to Keith Loren Marran, Jr. “an abomination” — praising Graham for his work.
The Samaritan’s Purse website describes its work in the Central Park hospital with anecdotes such as this: “We have seen patients recover from near physical death, and we have also seen God bring salvation to some under our care.”
The proselytizing that is clearly going on is done not by chaplains, but by nurses, as another anecdote on the group’s website makes clear: “The nurses ask her if she would like for them to pray for her, and she says, ‘Yes, I would like that very much. Please.’ Nurse Erin begins to softly hum hymns. The patient keeps her eyes closed and leans into the sound. Her oxygen level continues to rise. They ask her if she wants to lie back down. She says that she feels good now and would like to continue sitting up. She has hope again.”
Tom Smith, a registered nurse and New York gay leader for 42 years said, “If I had been caught praying with a patient the supervisor would have called me in to ask about it. It would be against nursing ethics and a violation of patients’ rights to proselytize to a patient. You’re not supposed to impose your beliefs on a patient.”
Councilmember Rivera, chair of the Council’s Hospitals Committee, tweeted on May 1, “After my team spoke to Mt. Sinai today, it’s clear there’s no longer any real need for Samaritan’s Purse to operate in any capacity in NYC, & certainly not at Beth Israel in my District. I stand w/@bradhoylman in demanding an end to any hospital’s assoc. w/ this anti-LGBTQ group.”
The hospital and Graham keep repeating that Samaritan’s Purse would not discriminate against any patient, but while Boal has said that extends to the group’s hiring, the fact is that no one can work for Samaritan’s Purse who does not affirm its right-wing anti-gay “Statement of Faith.”
Mount Sinai spokesperson Kaplan said no one had to sign such a statement, but two gay volunteers who tried to offer their help to Samaritan’s Purse were blocked by the group’s website when they would not affirm the statement. (Both have complaints pending at the New York City Human Rights Commission.) That website, which no one at Mount Sinai or in Mayor Bill de Blasio or Governor Andrew Cuomo’s offices seems to have bothered to peruse, explicitly states, “Christian Healthcare Workers: If you are a licensed, US medical professional, please begin an application here if you are interested in joining our COVID-19 response.”
Meanwhile, Graham has boasted about working with “the city and the state” on this project.
De Blasio expressed “concern” when questioned by Gay City News on April 30 about Samaritan’s Purse exploitation of the field hospital for advertising purposes and proselytization.
“Honestly, when I first heard about it, I had no idea about the history of the organization,” the mayor said. “The more I learned, the more concerned I got.”
De Blasio added that he had “heard” that the non-discrimination policy in serving patients was being enforced.
“But, on the question of using footage to promote an organization that clearly has exclusionary values,” the mayor said, “I would be very concerned about that. And I would ask that Mount Sinai lay down the law about that and make clear that that’s not something appropriate. They came here in principle to help save lives. That is good. That is something we all agree on, but we do not want to see the experience here in New York City used in some way to proselytize for any kind of exclusionary values.”
De Blasio had promised early on to monitor it, but his office did not provide the results of its oversight, which was assigned to his out gay aide Matt McMorrow.
Jane Mayer from the mayor’s press office wrote, “The State handles approvals for medical facilities, as it did for this one. You must ask them about their protocols for that. The City agreed to help with the logistics of building out this facility in order to prevent as many fatalities as possible during this unprecedented crisis.”
Mayer said she would look into the complaints at the Human Rights Commission but did not respond by press time.
Similarly, Cuomo, whose Department of Health authorized the field hospital, did not respond to questions about the propriety of the work of Samaritan’s Purse.
A doctor within the hospital leaked concern about the practices of the Graham personnel who, he reported, were not keeping computerized records on the patients as Mount Sinai — and any modern hospital — does but “writing things down on paper,” threatening the continuity of care.
Asked about this, Kaplan referred me to Samaritan’s Purse itself, which did not return a call for comment.
Some people arguing on behalf of Mount Sinai’s actions in this matter, including an individual affiliated with the hospital, have framed the issue as, “Would you rather be dead than be served by Samaritan’s Purse?” That’s a false choice. Alliances with bigoted organizations should never be forged. No other hospital in New York — all of which were under siege— entered into a like arrangement. Weeks ago, St. John the Divine was about to open its cathedral to a 400-bed hospital run by Samaritan’s Purse but pulled out of the project citing a lessening need but clearly also due to enormous pushback from its pro-LGBTQ Episcopalian rank-and-file.
It is confounding to many that this kind of group could end up tasked with taking care of diverse New Yorkers, pandemic or no. The New York Times reported: “Mount Sinai’s vice president for emergency management, Don R. Boyce, a former federal health official, was familiar with Samaritan’s Purse and its international aid efforts and made the initial connection between the institutions after the group offered a field hospital to the state.”
Boyce worked in the Obama and Trump administrations at the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Preparedness and Response before joining Mount Sinai in January 2019. But like most all New York hospitals, Mount Sinai was woefully unprepared for this crisis. When one of its nurse managers, Kious Kelly, RN, died of COVID-19, another nurse there told the New York Post there “were ‘issues with supplies for about a year now,’ during which it got ‘to the point where we had to hide our own supplies and go to other units looking for stuff because even the supply room would have nothing most of the time.’”
Mount Sinai denied the shortages at the time.
Mount Sinai also categorically denies any pressure from the Trump administration to accept Samaritan’s Purse as a partner. Franklin Graham is Trump’s #1 evangelical friend, touting him for president as far back as 2011. When Trump won in 2016, Graham said. “In this election, God showed up.” Trump had Graham offer the prayer at his Inauguration and the Inaugural Committee, which raised $106.7 million, gave a cool $1 million to Samaritan’s Purse. It is evident that Trump wants to keep Graham enthusiastically in his corner, and Graham certainly appreciates the 193 judicial appointments from the Federalist Society, all very conservative, most very young, and many rated unqualified but also dedicated to opposing LGBTQ rights, voting rights, gun control, abortion rights, and women’s rights generally.
It’s also clear that the Trump administration has colossally botched and politicized the federal response to COVID-19, operating with a total lack of transparency about who gets help and who does not. Governors, mayors, and hospital administrators live in fear of offending the mercurial president lest they be denied what they need.
Mount Sinai spokesperson Kaplan repeatedly stressed how overwhelming the crisis was when the hospital accepted Graham’s help — and MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow’s inside look Friday night at the harrowing, life-saving work going on there leaves absolutely no doubt that it was and continues to be daunting, exhausting, and dangerous work.
None of us who were not in those trenches in those early weeks can say we understand how terrifying a time that was for frontline healthcare workers in desperate need of relief. But for many LGBTQ people — including demoralized personnel within Mount Sinai who complained to management about Samaritan’s Purse — the alliance of a city hospital with the most prominent anti-LGBTQ bigot in the country was a kick in the gut at a time when we were all rubbed raw by the threat of impending death and disorienting dislocation. No, many are saying, not any port in a storm.
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