Tens of thousands of people are expected to hear the message of sin and salvation at an evangelistic festival in Binghamton, N.Y., this weekend. Also coming to town that same weekend is a gay pride fair.
The NYPENN Franklin Graham Festival will hit Binghamton this Friday for a three-day event complete with popular Christian music artists, KidzFest and free admission. It's the first time a Graham festival is landing in the Southern Tier and local organizers are readying two additional overflow venues at the Binghamton University Events Center.
With praying and preparation months into the event, John O'Neil, chairman of the event's executive committee of local volunteers, says the festival is to "reach the un-churched, to provide a message of love, a message of hope, a message of meaning," according to the local Press & Sun-Bulletin.
And one group of people that organizers have extended the festival invitation to is the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender community (LGBT). June is “gay pride” month and members of the Binghamton Pride Coalition have a series of events planned for the entire month, including its third annual Pride Fair celebrating the LGBT community on Saturday.
"I'd like to invite them to come to our meeting. I think everyone, no matter what your preferences, can certainly find hope in the message of the Gospel," Art Bailey, director of the Graham festival, told the local newspaper. "People of all persuasions want you to look at everything with an open mind. I think we'd say the same thing."
As Binghamton prepares to welcome Graham to the city for the June 8-10 festival, the city's mayor has already raised the gay flag and shown his support to the LGBT community.
On June 1, Mayor Matthew T. Ryan and members of the Binghamton Pride Coalition kicked off the month with a proclamation, calling it a month to celebrate community diversity and to raise awareness of LGBT issues. Ryan also issued an executive order recognizing same-sex "marriages" in the city. The City of Binghamton now joins Ithaca, Rochester, Albany and Nyack in recognizing same-sex "marriages" legally performed in other states and jurisdictions.
Some students and faculty at Binghamton University protested an evangelistic festival being held on school grounds, claiming the event contradicts the Student Handbook's provision against bias-related activities, as well as a disregard for diversity, according to Press & Sun-Bulletin. Protestors were rebuffed as the school's administration confirmed that Graham's organizers met all the conditions for rental of the Events Center.
Claudia Stallman of Binghamton, who directs the Lesbian and Gay Family Building project, told the local newspaper that the LGBT community has no plans to disrupt the Graham festival and hopes people who attend the evangelistic event do not disrupt their celebration.
Meanwhile, organizers have high expectations for the Franklin Graham festival and hundreds have been praying for its success.
"It's something that's going to transform this community forever," said O'Neil.