Muslim groups and supporters of LGBTQ rights are urging the United Kingdom to deny a visa to evangelical preacher Franklin Graham over statements they say amount to hate speech.
Graham, son of the late Billy Graham, is set to appear at the three-day Festival of Hope at Blackpool’s Winter Gardens conference center beginning Sept. 21. His appearance at the festival organized by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association has received the support of at least 30 local churches — which have been preparing for his visit for the past two years.
The 66-year-old’s visit marks 36 years since his famous father, who died earlier this year, visited Blackpool. The younger Graham has said he intends to preach about the “timeless message of God’s hope, love and redemption for all people.”
But critics say a message of love is the antithesis of what the second-generation minister stands for.
Parliamentary minister Gordon Marsden claimed he has written to Home Secretary Sajid Javid urging the U.K. government to block Graham’s visit. In a statement, he said the Home Office should “consider stopping any further escalation of tension and hurt towards the groups he continues to attack in his preaching by barring his ability to speak at the Winter Gardens.”
“I have had a number of constituents, including local clergy and other faith leaders, who were alarmed and appalled by the derogatory and inflammatory views that Franklin Graham has expressed towards Muslims, members of the LGBTQ community, and others,” Marsden claimed.
“Blackpool welcomes every year millions of visitors of all faiths and none, as well as diverse families, members of the LGBTQ community and many different nationalities,” he added. “Our residential community is similarly diverse.”
Marsden is just the latest member of parliament to come out against Graham’s tour of the country. Fellow Labour minister Afzal Khan and government whip Paul Maynard have also opposed the speech, while more than 8,000 people have signed an online petition calling on the government to deny the right-wing preacher entry over his anti-LGBTQ, anti-Muslim views.
His inflammatory statements targeting queer and transgender people are extremely well-documented.
Graham has claimed LGBTQ activists are pushing an “immoral agenda” on the American public, likened transgender people to “pedophiles and sexually perverted men,” and claimed the movement for equality is a “full-scale assault against Christianity and the followers of Christ.”
On the subject of Russia’s anti-gay propaganda laws, Graham credited Putin with taking a “stand to protect his nation’s children from the damaging effects of any gay and lesbian agenda.”
Passed in 2013, those laws have led to a twofold increase in hate crimes against LGBTQ Russians.
The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) has likewise opposed Graham’s visit due to his history of virulent Islamophobia. In a statement, the organization said he “clearly [demonstrates] a hatred for Muslims and other minorities.”
A noted propagandist in the birther movement, the conservative extremist has repeatedly claimed President Obama was “born a Muslim,” He has further described Islam as “evil” and a “religion of war,” advocating that Muslims be banned from entering the U.S. “until this threat with Islam has been settled.”
In remarks shared with The Guardian, the MCB noted there’s precedent for refusing Graham a visa to Britain.
“In the past, the government has banned individuals whom they claim are ‘not conducive to the public good,” the group stated. “[…] We would expect the government to apply its criteria here. If it does not, it will send a clear message that it is not consistent in challenging all forms of bigotry.”
The Home Office has not responded to calls to stonewall Graham.
But while the U.K. government considers the numerous requests, Blackpool residents plan to oppose his visit with a statement of support for the LGBTQ community. Should Graham visit the coastal town of 140,000 people, he will be greeted with a rainbow flag draped over Blackpool Tower — one of its most iconic tourist destinations.
In addition to holding LGBTQ-affirming church services throughout this weekend’s conference, supporters of the community reportedly plan to erect an effigy of Jesus in the town square. The 13-foot-tall deity will be fashioned with a rainbow sash.
Blackpool boasts one of the U.K.’s largest LGBTQ communities — with an estimated 10 percent of townsfolk identifying as queer or transgender.