SAYiT, a Sheffield charity which has been supporting young LGBT+ people in the city for over 20 years, has joined voices across the region in strongly urging Sheffield City Trust to reconsider giving a platform to the controversial preacher, Franklin Graham.  Graham, who has been criticised for his homophobic and Islamophobic rhetoric, is due to visit the city in June this year for an appearance at Sheffield FlyDSA Arena, which is run by the Trust.

The charity, which supports the mental health and well-being of young LGBT+ people, makes the plea amid growing anger among LGBT+ and faith communities  that The Trust is allowing Graham a platform to preach what many consider to be hateful and divisive doctrine.

Local political and religious leaders and faith communities across Sheffield have united in condemning Graham’s appearance at the event and have recognised the significant threat it represents to community cohesion in the city. It has been suggested that the appearance by Graham, who has previously faced calls for his entry to the UK to be barred, brings with it a real potential to incite hate crime in the city.

Steve Slack, CEO of SAYiT, said: ‘we understand that this is a purely commercial decision made by Sheffield City Trust but as a charity supporting vulnerable young LGBT+ people we see first-hand the devastating impact of increasing hate crimes and discrimination on the lives of our young people. Many of those we work with experience mental health problems and a high proportion have self-harmed or attempted to take their own lives as a result of the discrimination they’ve faced.

‘We call upon The Chair of the Trust, David Grey, and his fellow Trustees to demonstrate leadership, and social responsibility and to fulfil their duty of care to Sheffield and it’s communities by cancelling this damaging and inflammatory event.

‘Franklin Graham has a long history of making preposterous and hateful statements about LGBT+ people, referring to them as ‘predators and perverts’ as well as suggesting that they are ‘the enemy’ of civilisation. Graham is also an advocate of ‘gay conversion therapy’, which continues to be condemned across the globe and scientifically proven to be damaging. In the UK, the NHS and all major counselling and psychotherapy bodies have agreed that conversion therapy is harmful to those subjected to it. It is not possible to change someone’s sexual orientation and to promote such practices, which have led to depression, self-harm and suicide, is dangerous.‘

The Chair of Sheffield City Trust has defended the appearance of Graham as an issue of freedom of speech: ‘As an organisation, Sheffield City Trust, supports the right to freedom of speech and freedom of expression whist promoting equality and freedom from hatred and abuse .These principles form key parts of our company ethos.’

Steve Slack challenges this view and contends: ‘Graham inhabits a very privileged and powerful position which he is exploiting. Graham is funded by wealthy corporate sponsors and uses his considerable influence to create division and perpetuate dangerous and ill-informed ideas. Our young people, and the other minority groups who are the targets for Graham’s hateful rhetoric, simply do not have the same opportunities for their voices to be heard.

‘Our city leaders have acknowledged the real threat to social cohesion and an increased risk of hate crime this event represents and as such, we have a duty to protect the welfare of our young people. David Grey himself has accepted that there is ‘potential conflict’ in his decision making but still chooses to allow the event to take place. I personally find this attitude irresponsible.’

Shahida Siddique, CEO of Faithstar, a specialist consulting service to the faith sector, said: ‘We have already raised our objections about this event taking place in the city. Over the years we have worked closely with SAYiT to improve better understanding and build cohesion between LGBT+ and faith communities. I feel very concerned about the impact on social cohesion if this event is allowed to go ahead. As a city we have worked hard to make Sheffield a safer and more inclusive place for all and this event potentially puts all of this good work at risk.’

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