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A man has been arrested after trying to plant an LGBTQ Pride flag at a COVID-19 tent hospital in New York City that was operated by an anti-LGBTQ preacher.
The 68-bed tent hospital in Central Park was established last week by evangelical Christian aid organization Samaritan’s Purse and is intended to help treat overflow patients from Mount Sinai Hospital experiencing COVID-19-related respiratory distress.
Samaritan’s Purse is led by anti-LGBTQ preacher Franklin Graham, who has a history of opposing LGBTQ people and equality, and the tent hospital reportedly requires all volunteers to agree to a “Statement of Faith” which includes expressing vehement opposition to homosexuality and transgender people.
William Talen, 69, was arrested on Sunday by police after entering the grounds of the tent hospital and trying to plant a flag pole with a rainbow flag attached, NBC News reports.
Talen was dressed as his Reverend Billy persona, which the actor and playwright uses to satirize conservative religious figures and consumerism.
He has been charged with criminal trespass, disorderly conduct, obstructing governmental administration, and resisting arrest, according to police.
Talen “jumped over the outer perimeter barrier of the Samaritan’s Purse Field Hospital, a prohibited area,” according to a police statement, and after ignoring demands to leave, “proceeded to plant a flag on a pole into the ground.”
As he was led away from the tent hospital by police officers, one of whom was carrying his flag, Talen said, “They [Samaritan’s Purse] have no business being in New York City. They are the virus,” according to NBC News.
In a video of his arrest posted to Twitter, he said Samaritan’s Purse was “taking advantage of our sorrow,” calling them “predators” and “right-wing apocalyptic Christians.”
“Today I tried to deliver a rainbow flag to the Samaritans Purse field hospital in Central Park,” Talen wrote in the tweet. “Franklin Graham and his Lords Army are here with their homophobic racist hustle. Help not hate.”
Today I tried to deliver a rainbow flag to the Samaritans Purse field hospital in Central Park. Franklin Graham and his Lords Army are here with their homophobic racist hustle. Help not hate. pic.twitter.com/zTK8mLmmbe
— Reverend Billy Talen (@revbillytalen) April 6, 2020
After the tent hospital was erected, LGBTQ activists and politicians expressed concern that Samaritan’s Purse may refuse care to LGBTQ people.
State Sen. Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan), who is gay, said he would be monitoring the organization closely, saying, “COVID-19 doesn’t discriminate, and neither should Franklin Graham. It’s unacceptable that a New Yorker infected with COVID-19 could be subjected to discriminatory treatment from an organization whose leader calls us ‘immoral’ and ‘detestable.’
“Sadly, beggars can’t be choosers: New York needs every ventilator we can get,” Hoylman added. “But homophobic pastor Franklin Graham and his field hospital operation in Central Park must guarantee all LGBTQ patients with COVID-19 are treated with dignity and respect. We’ll be watching.”
In a statement to Metro Weekly, Samaritan’s Purse rejected claims that it may turn away LGBTQ people seeking care for COVID-19.
“Samaritan’s Purse does not discriminate in who we help, and we have a decades-long track record that confirms just that. We do not make distinctions about an individual’s religion, race, sexual orientation, or economic status,” said Kaitlyn Lahm, the assistant director of marketing and media relations at Samaritan’s Purse.
“Our doors at the Emergency Field Hospital in the East Meadow are going to be open to all New Yorkers who need our help. We are here to save life, which is precious in God’s sight — and we do it all in Jesus’ Name. We are a Christian organization and we hire Christians who share our statement of faith. We have a common denominator of our faith in Jesus Christ and sharing that hope.”
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated Talen’s sexuality.
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