A North Carolina legislative committee has approved a model of a statue honoring the late Rev. Billy Graham to replace one of a former governor and white supremacist who currently represents the state in the U.S. Capitol’s National Statuary Hall.
Last week, the Legislature’s Statuary Hall Selection Committee approved the model of the Southern Baptist minister who promoted anti-LGBTQ sentiment when he was alive.
Each state is allowed to select two statues to represent it in the hall, and the statue of Graham would replace that of Charles Aycock, a governor who also led white supremacist campaigns at the turn of the 20th century. Aycock’s statue has represented North Carolina in the hall for nearly 90 years.
Graham, a Charlotte native, has been described as the most influential American evangelist in the twentieth century and gave “spiritual counsel” to every U.S. president from Harry Truman to Barack Obama before his death in 2018.
In 1973, Graham said that homosexuality is a “sinister form of perversion” in his advice column, responding to a girl who wrote in and said she was in love with another girl.
“We traffic in homosexuality at the peril of spiritual welfare,” he wrote. “Your affection for another of your own sex is misdirected, and will be judged by God’s holy standards.”
He then claimed that the U.S. “applauded” homosexuality because “morals have so eroded” and advised the girl to be “converted” and that “such reformation is possible for you.”
In 1993, Graham told a record-breaking crowd of 44,300 in Cooper Stadium in Columbus, Ohio: “Is AIDS a judgment of God? I could not be sure, but I think so.”
Two weeks later, however, he apologized for the remark, saying “I don’t believe that, and I don’t know why I said it.”
Graham was also staunchly opposed to marriage equality. In 2012, he took out a full-page ad in 14 North Carolina newspapers to urge people to vote against marriage equality, calling it part of “the moral decline of our country causes me great concern.”
His organization, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, is part of that institutional apparatus. Now spearheaded by his son Franklin Graham, it has provided a platform for virulent homophobia and support for anti-LGBTQ initiatives.
On the organization’s website, Franklin Graham has claimed Satan is behind LGBTQ rights and activism, has said there is “no place for compromise” on same-sex marriage and has praised Russian leaders who he said have “stood steadfastly against the rising homosexual agenda in their country.”
Garrard Conley, the author of “Boy Erased,” a memoir in which he recounts his experiences in conversion therapy in Arkansas, said Graham’s anti-LGBT rhetoric was frequently employed in the liturgy he encountered and in the camp where he was told he could be “cured” of homosexuality.
“I grew up hearing Graham’s name referenced in almost every church service, and when I was sent to conversion therapy, his evangelical fire was the model for our change,” he said. “Though many saw Graham as a loving influence, his legacy has been harmful for queer individuals.”
“Don’t just take my word for it,” Conley added. “Graham called homosexuality ‘a sinister form of perversion,’ and never appears to have changed his thoughts on the matter.”