William "Reverend Billy" Talen, an activist and performance artist, was arrested Sunday when he tried to plant a rainbow flag at the New York City COVID-19 field hospital run by anti-LGBTQ minister Franklin Graham's organization.
"They have no business being in New York City. They are the virus," Talen said of Graham and his group, Samaritan's Purse, as police escorted him out of Central Park, where the field hospital is located, NBC News reports.
Talen "jumped over the outer perimeter barrier of the Samaritan's Purse Field Hospital, a prohibited area" and was "instructed to leave," a New York Police Department spokesperson told NBC via email. He refused and then tried to plant a flagpole in the ground to fly a Pride flag. He was charged with resisting arrest, obstructing governmental administration, criminal trespass, and disorderly conduct, and police removed him and the flag from the park.
The activist, who is also known for protests against various corporations, tweeted a video of him being led out of the park.
There has been much outcry over the fact that Samaritan's Purse is operating the 68-bed field hospital, in partnership with Mount Sinai Medical Center. Samaritan's Purse requires volunteers to endorse its conservative Christian beliefs, which include the statement that "marriage is exclusively the union of one genetic male and one genetic female."
Graham has said that Samaritan's Purse will not discriminate in delivering care. "We do not make distinctions about an individual's religion, race, sexual orientation, or economic status," he told NBC. "We certainly do not discriminate, and we have a decades-long track record that confirms just that."
Mount Sinai officials said they are seeking to assure that there is no discrimination against either patients or staff. "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 spokesperson told the network.
Mayor Bill de Blasio has said his administration will also keep an eye on the situation, as the views of Samaritan's Purse are "troubling." "I'm very concerned to make sure this is done right, but if this is done right, we need all the help we can get" in New York, which has been hit particularly hard by the outbreak, he said at a recent press conference.
State Sen. Brad Hoylman, who is gay, has urged city officials and Mount Sinai to monitor the field hospital. He issued a statement last week calling on Graham "to publicly assure LGBTQ New Yorkers that they will receive the same treatment as anyone else at the Central Park field hospital."
He added, "Sadly, beggars can't be choosers: New York needs every ventilator we can get. 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."
Anyone experiencing or witnessing discrimination, Hoylman said, should contact the city's Commission on Human Rights at (718) 722-3131 or his office at (212) 633-8052.