Newcastle City Council leader Nick Forbes has launched a scathing attack on American evangelist Franklin Graham as he pursues legal action over a tour event in the city that was cancelled because of his views on homosexuality.
Graham's event had been due to take place at Newcastle's Utilita Arena but it was cancelled by venue owner ASM Global, formerly known as SMG, after coming under pressure from Forbes and LGBT+ campaign group Northern Pride.
The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA), which organised Graham's UK tour, is pursuing legal action against ASM Global and other venues that cancelled event bookings.
Responding to the threat of legal action, Forbes told the Newcastle Chronicle this week: "Clearly he didn't get the message when our city stood together and shunned his event.
"We do not tolerate or accept his peddling of controversial, repulsive views about the LGBT community and his disgusting, outdated comments on sexuality."
He continued: "Hiding behind the thinly veiled threat of legal action reminds me of a petulant child stomping his feet because he didn't get his own way.
"Let's make something clear, Newcastle will not be bullied, we will not waver in our fight against social injustice and we do not tolerate hate speech in any form.
"We are a city that is proud to have vibrant, diverse communities. A city where people are accepted and welcomed for who they are. A city that celebrates the LGBT community and has a history of battling all forms of inequality.
"Across the world we are seeing protests tear apart communities, violence threatening the right to make your voice heard and discrimination being at the forefront of debate. It is times like this when our city must come together to heal these divides, not welcome individuals who see fit to open them wider."
Graham was coming to the UK for an eight-day tour this year but all the booked venues pulled out because of his views on homosexuality. The BGEA had been seeking alternative venues but the tour was postponed indefinitely due to coronavirus when the country went into lockdown.
Graham has denied bringing a message of hate. In an open letter to the UK's LGBTQ community in January, he wrote: "The Gospel is inclusive. I'm not coming out of hate, I'm coming out of love. I invite everyone in the LGBTQ community to come and hear for yourselves the Gospel messages that I will be bringing from God's Word, the Bible. You are absolutely welcome."
A spokesperson for the BGEA said the organisation was "dedicated to pursuing a resolution with the venues that were scheduled to host the tour".
"The decision by SMG breached a legally-binding contract and treated us, Christians who hold traditional Biblical beliefs, less favourably than others with different views," they said.
"In relation to the council, our concern is it took unlawful action in opposing BGEA's event and essentially forced SMG into cancelling the contract. BGEA's goal remains to hold the tour events on rescheduled dates.
"We will continue encouraging SMG and the council to apply its principles of equality, diversity and inclusion to everyone in the community, including Christians with traditional Biblical views."
The spokesperson added: "During this time of uncertainty, people need a message of hope, and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association remains committed to sharing the good news of the gospel with people across the UK. We are grateful people from more than 2,330 churches are working with us and praying for this evangelistic outreach."