Evangelical field hospital requires health workers to take anti-gay pledge

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Staff must agree to a statement of faith that says 'marriage is exclusively the union of one genetic male and one genetic female.'

An evangelical Christian organization called Samaritan's Purse set up an emergency field hospital in New York on April 1 to help New Yorkers through the COVID-19 crisis, but some LGBTQ advocacy groups are concerned about how well it is serving the city's LGBTQ population. 

Franklin Graham is the CEO and president of Samaritan's Purse and has close ties to Donald Trump, serving as an unofficial spiritual adviser. The son of the late evangelist Billy Graham, he has made a number of homophobic comments over the years, including one that targeted former presidential candidate and mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Pete Buttigieg. 

Since Samaritan's Purse arrived in New York, there has been some controversy over its presence and whether it has the right to ask volunteers to read and agree with a statement of faith. The organization's website explains that volunteers must adhere to the statement, which includes these words:

We believe God’s plan for human sexuality is to be expressed only within the context of marriage, that God created man and woman as unique biological persons made to complete each other. 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.

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It also reads, "Furthermore, we believe that God will reward the righteous with eternal life in heaven, and that He will banish the unrighteous to everlasting punishment in hell."

Gothamist, the New York Daily News, Pink News, and Gay City News have all published articles mentioning the statement of faith and its potential effect on volunteers in New York.

Samaritan's Purse confirmed in an email this week that personnel must sign on to and agree with the statement.

"As a Christian organization, our staff must acknowledge that they agree with the ministry's statement of faith. It is our shared faith that motivates us to serve hurting people around the world such as those who are sick with COVID-19 in New York and Italy," a spokesperson said.

But the organization said it does not have volunteers in New York City and claimed anyone involved with the field hospital is Samaritan's Purse official personnel. 

According to a press release previously put out by the organization, it has a disaster assistance response team of more than 70 doctors, nurses, and other medical personnel and relief specialists on the ground, and on March 28, when a convoy of trucks arrived in New York, "our staff, along with many local volunteers, worked tirelessly to prepare the hospital to receive patients."

When asked about the reference to "volunteers" in that release, Samaritan’s Purse said they were not officially volunteers with the organization, but "generous New Yorkers who pitched in to lend a hand" with spreading mulch, laying flooring, and setting up the field hospital.

The organization said those New Yorkers were not asked to sign anything.

"We do not make distinctions about an individual's religion, race, sexual orientation, or economic status. Our doors at the Emergency Field Hospital in the East Meadow are going to be open to all New Yorkers who need our help," the spokesperson said.

Still, some LGBTQ organizations have said they have some concerns about the group and its work in New York. A spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign said that "while the current global health crisis of COVID-19 is undoubtedly an all-hands-on-deck situation, there is never an acceptable time to be spreading discriminatory and hateful views."

"Expecting all personnel to adhere to anti-LGBTQ, discriminatory views when they are simply trying to help others hampers Samaritan's Purse's ability to do the most good," they said.

HRC called on Samaritan's Purse "to rise above this anti-LGBTQ ideology of hate, and to focus instead on doing good in this time of need." 

Whitman-Walker Health, a nonprofit community health organization that specializes in LGBTQ issues, said this week that statements of faith, such as the one Samaritan's Purse asks its staffers to abide by, could be harmful and could "discourage urgently-needed volunteers" from aiding efforts, especially if those volunteers were ever asked to sign such a pledge as well.

"Any discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer persons at the field hospital would be immoral, inconsistent with medical ethics, and violate New York City and State laws," the organization warned. "Even the possibility of discrimination, or an unwelcoming attitude by any provider or other person working at the field hospital, might discourage LGBT people from seeking health care urgently needed in this emergency."

"Sadly," it added, "many LGBT individuals and families have encountered lack of understanding, hostility, and even outright discrimination by health care providers and institutions."

The National Center for Transgender Equality's 2015 U.S. Trans Survey found that 33% of respondents said they had negative experience with a health care provider in the past year because they were transgender. A 2017 Center for American Progress survey found that 8% of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people who participated and 29% of transgender people said a health care provider had refused to see them because of their actual or perceived sexuality or gender in the past year.

Chris Fleming, spokesperson for Accountable for Equality, a group of activists and donors formed to educate the public about the efforts of anti-LGBTQ extremists, condemned any "litmus test or filter applied by any organization for people wanting to help" and said no one should "require people to pledge to be anti-LGBT" either.

"With New Yorkers dying every day, hospitals overwhelmed, and health care workers risking their lives, this is no time for nonsense," Fleming said this week. "Franklin Graham's ridiculous anti-LGBT filter for health care workers at his Central Park hospital is the antithesis of coming together."

Some activists have protested Samaritan Purse's presence since it began operating the field hospital. William Talen, a gay actor who as "Reverend Billy" satirizes consumerism and right-wing religious beliefs, was arrested on Sunday afternoon after he planted a LGBTQ pride flag at the field hospital, according to NBC News. He was charged with resisting arrest, disorderly conduct, and criminal trespass.

Talen said he is currently in 14-day seclusion after being in jail. On March 30, the Queens Eagle reported that at least 167 people currently detained in New York City jails have contracted COVID-19. 

When reached for comment about the field hospital this week, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio's office responded by citing a statement the mayor made on March 31. In those comments, de Blasio said that he found some of the statements Graham had made "very troubling," adding that he had spoken with Dr. Ken Davis, the CEO of the Mount Sinai Health System and that Mount Sinai would only continue its relationship with the organization if it served everyone equally. 

"We're going to send people over from the Mayor's Office to monitor. So, I'm very concerned to make sure this is done right. But if it is done right, of course, we need all the help we can get," he said.

Mount Sinai has told Samaritan's Purse workers that they must adhere to the Mount Sinai Hospital principles and guidelines when it comes to not discriminating against patients or staff based on actual or perceived race, creed, color, religion, national origin, sex, gender, gender expression, gender identity, and any other characteristics protected by law. 

"In short, while our organizations may have differences of opinions, when it comes to COVID-19 we are fully united: We will care for everyone, and no patients or staff will be discriminated against," a Mount Sinai official said.

Although those precautions exist to oversee the organization, Samaritan's Purse is still led by Graham, a man who last year wrote for Decision Magazine, which is published by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association,

I want to thank President Donald J. Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for making the decision not to fly the gay flag over our embassies during June in recognition of gay pride month. That is the right decision. The only flag that should fly over our embassies is the flag of the United States of America. The gay pride flag is offensive to Christians and millions of people of other faiths, not only in this country but around the world. 

In this context, he also referred to a "prevailing moral darkness" and a "deepening depravity" in the United States.

Graham, of course, has a long history of anti-LGBTQ behavior.

During Buttigieg's presidential run, Graham told him to repent for being gay.

When a transphobic law barring transgender people from using the bathroom of their gender was rolled back in North Carolina, Graham tweeted, "Thanks to the gov, people of NC will be exposed to pedophiles & sexually perverted men in women's public restrooms."

Graham has called marriage equality "detestable before almighty God" and has made myriad statements over the years about the LGBTQ community.

In an interview with Jeanine Pirro on Saturday, Graham said of COVID-19, "It's because of the sin that's in the world. Man has turned his back on God, we have sinned against him, and we need to ask for God’s forgiveness and that’s what Easter’s all about."

Graham also offered a Bible reading at Trump's inauguration and praised the president on "Fox & Friends" in 2018 for defending Christianity.

On Wednesday, during a call with religious leaders, Trump similarly praised Graham for his organization's work in Central Park.

The Trump administration has notably rolled back numerous Obama-era anti-discrimination protections for the LGBTQ community, including rules to protect trans people from discrimination in shelters, in health care settings, and at school. It has implemented a ban on transgender people in the military and came out in opposition to the Equality Act, a nondiscrimination bill that would clarify and expand protections for LGBTQ people in housing, education, employment, and more.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.