Franklin Graham is coming to visit 8 UK cities later this year as part of his tour which has already sparked protests in Florida. One of the dates includes Sheffield Arena on 6th June. Graham is a close friend of Donald Trump and preached at his inauguration. He is the son of the late preacher, Billy Graham, who was also close to American presidents and preached to thousands of Christians across America.
Franklin Graham has previously said that he believes gay marriage is a sin.
The Arena is managed by Sheffield City Trust and they have said they do not endorse Graham’s views but support the right to free speech. This has sparked criticism by community leaders in Sheffield who wrote a letter expressing their concern that his visit could lead to protests. The Bishop of Sheffield has also said, “Graham’s rhetoric is inflammatory and represents a risk to the social cohesion of Sheffield.” There has been widespread fury in the LGBT+ community and they have also called for the event to be cancelled.
22 members of the LGBT+ community, including members of the Sheffield Equality Hub Network, Sheffield Bi and Pan Social Group, the Progressive Catholic Church and the University of Sheffield have written a letter to the head of Sheffield City Trust, David Grey, stating:
“Franklin Graham has repeatedly publicly promoted his homophobic beliefs including, but not limited to, branding homosexuality a ‘sin’, claiming Satan was the architect of same-sex marriage and LGBT rights, claiming gay people existing are causing a ‘moral 9/11’, declared gay people ‘the enemy’ of civilisation and advocates for the highly damaging abusive practice of gay conversion therapy.
We believe that these statements far exceed freedom of speech and are direct hate speech… which should not be welcomed in our city, or anywhere else.”
David Grey was reported by The Guardian as saying he had talked to faith leaders as well as South Yorkshire Police and responded saying there was “a potential conflict between these two moral stances”. He said that the event was not open to the public and “if individuals or groups aren’t breaking the law then their right to speak freely should be respected”.
The Guardian also reported that Heather Paterson, LGBT+ chair at the Equality Hub Network in the city and one of the signatories to the letter, said: “While Sheffield City Trust defend their position on the grounds of ‘free speech’, hate speech is not free speech. Graham’s rhetoric demonising some of our most vulnerable communities, referring to us as the enemies of civilisation and advocating for the harmful and abusive practice of conversion therapy, inspires and encourages these attacks. As a community we stand together to reject his attempts to spread further hatred and division in our city.”
On 25th January there will be a demonstration, at the Forge International Sports Centre, against Graham’s appearance: “Sheffield Against Hate Demo: Say No To Franklin Graham”.
Graham is also due to speak at the O2 arena and a petition has been started online to protest against his hate speech.
Freedom of speech should be respected. However, when freedom of speech promotes hatred against other people and has the potential to cause hate crime attacks, it needs to be stopped.