Just a dozen protesters scattered across the street from Mount Sinai Beth Israel Medical Center in Manhattan on Sunday afternoon to condemn the hospital’s partnership with Samaritan’s Purse, an evangelical group that espouses anti-gay statements in their volunteer pledge.
But the gathering also brought out 50 police officers there to try and dissuade the protest before shifting gears to enforcing social distancing measures amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. They issued threats of summonses to both protesters and the press alike if they dared to not comply with the mandates.
Reclaim Pride, advocates for LGBTQ+ rights, set up a podium for speakers to talk with the media about their opposition of Mt. Sinai’s continued work with Samaritan’s Purse, even after the tents in Central Park are packed up.
The hospital set up by the nonprofit group, led by evangelist Franklin Graham, is currently treating only eight patients who will be transferred to the main campus on 98th Street this week.
About 50 police officers arrived at First Avenue and East 16th Street with lights and sirens to discourage the protestors from massing across from the hospital. Most of the protestors, however, were scattered with more than 20 feet of distance.
Instead, some cops turned on members of the media whose lenses were trained on the podium, at first threatening to issue summonses. After realizing reporters and photographers were also maintaining a proper social distance measure of six feet from other persons, they backed off the threat.
Several speakers blasted the hospital for continuing their work with the group that they say urges volunteers to sign a “Statement of Faith” that espouses homophobic and anti-Muslim language. They made their statements short, as police stood nearby threatening to issue summonses.
One summons was issued to a protestor, identified as Ann Northrop, for the “illegal gathering” as she stood in the middle of the First Avenue service lane, away from the main podium.
“They made three mistakes on this summons, which means it will be thrown out immediately. One has to wonder if it was deliberate,” she said. “What happened to free speech in this country? They don’t want us to give the message that the mayor and the governor and Mt. Sinai should be held accountable for bringing a bigot, Franklin Graham, to the city.”
Other protestors were equally shocked by the police presence and rushed their speeches to avoid summonses.
“I was stunned to learn in late March of the unholy arrangement between a medical institution of national standing, Mt. Sinai, and a far-right vehicle for bigotry and opportunistic fundraising and proselytizing in the form of Samaritan’s Purse,” said Jay Walker, an organizer of RPC. “As a massive expansion of this partnership takes place, it is now patently clear that Mount Sinai, the Mayor’s office, and the Governor’s office must be transparent with the public as to who specifically approved of this partnership initially, who approved of this massive expansion, and the plans to monitor Samaritan’s Purse for competency in medical treatment and discrimination.”
Walker said Mount Sinai has assured the public of non-discrimination in Samaritan’s Purse’s provisions of services, but “this is utterly inadequate, as it allows for discrimination towards employees and volunteers.”
The Reclaim Pride Coalition has also been told by an anonymous source that Samaritan’s Purse is now working inside the main Mount Sinai Hospital on Fifth Avenue, evaluating and processing COVID-19 patients for discharge, taking them out of the hands of Mt. Sinai doctors and nurses.
“The issue is the brazen and unacceptable discriminatory hiring policy and the requirement to sign a Statement of Faith that condemns all LGBTQX people and all people of other faiths to banishment in everlasting hellfire,” said Reverend Gene Bourquin, a deacon in the Episcopal Diocese. Bourquin was instrumental in persuading the St. John the Divine Cathedral to reject a plan that would have allowed Samaritan’s Purse to establish a clinic in their facility.
“We reject this interpretation of scripture as facile, hateful, and in grievous error,” Bourquin said.
After a few remarks by the protestors, police withdrew from the site.
At a Friday press conference, Mayor Bill de Blasio said anyone or any organization would receive summonses if they violate the social distancing rules and have gatherings that violate the rules during the COVID-19 crisis.
“We’re not doing rallies at this point,” the mayor said at the Friday morning press conference. “They spread the disease and help to kill people. It’s unacceptable.”