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  • The Guardian

Sheffield Arena urged to cancel event by 'homophobic' Trump ally

LGBTQ+ campaigners say Franklin Graham’s statements amount to hate speech

LGBTQ+ leaders in Sheffield have called for the cancellation of an upcoming UK tour by Donald Trump’s most prominent evangelical ally, claiming he promotes homophobic views. Franklin Graham, the influential son of the late American preacher Billy Graham, has previously said he believes gay marriage is a sin. Graham is currently on a tour of Florida – which has attracted protests from thousands of other Christians – and is to tour eight UK cities later this year. He is due to visit Sheffield Arena in June as part of his tour, which is not open to the public.

Sheffield City Trust, which runs the venue, has said it does not endorse Graham’s views but supports the right to free speech. But LGBT+ campaigners have written to the trust calling for the visit to be cancelled. The letter, signed by 22 representatives of the city’s LGBTQ+ community, says: “Franklin Graham has repeatedly publicly promoted his homophobic beliefs, including but not limited to branding homosexuality a sin …

“We believe that these statements far exceed freedom of speech and are direct hate speech and incitement to violence against LGBTQ+ communities and individuals, which should not be welcomed in our city or anywhere else.”

David Grey, chairman of the trust, said he had met faith groups from the city and taken advice from South Yorkshire police regarding the visit but supported the “right to free speech and freedom of expression whilst promoting equality and freedom from hatred and abuse”.

He agreed there was “a potential conflict between these two moral stances”, but added 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”.

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.”

A demonstration against Graham’s appearance, Sheffield Against Hate Demo: Say No To Franklin Graham, is being held on 25 January at the Forge International Sports Centre in the city.

Earlier this month councillors wrote a cross-party letter to organisers of Graham’s event warning that the visit could lead to protests.

And in November the bishop of Sheffield, Pete Wilcox, said Graham’s rhetoric was inflammatory and represented a risk to the social cohesion of Sheffield.

Grey added: “The Franklin Graham event is part of a series of closed events across the country. These events are not open to the public. Other religious groups hire the arena for similar closed events and we are happy to accommodate them as long as the law isn’t being broken.

“As an organisation, we take matters such as this immensely seriously. We are aware of views from some of our city’s councillors and understand their concerns. [But] it is the view of the board of trustees that freedom of speech, and the ability to disagree with someone’s beliefs, are to be encouraged. If individuals or groups aren’t breaking the law then their right to speak freely should be respected.”

The tour during May and June will also include venues in Glasgow, Newcastle, Milton Keynes, Liverpool, Cardiff, Birmingham and London.

Graham said: “I’m not coming to Sheffield to preach against anyone. I’m coming to tell everyone about a God who loves them.

“The gospel’s life-saving truth and power applies to everyone in this great city.”

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