Up to 200 people braved strong winds outside the Winter Gardens to protest the arrival of an American preacher whose anti-gay and anti-Islam comments have been sharply criticised.
Franklin Graham, the head of Christian charity Samaritan’s Purse, is due to speak at the Festival of Hope at the Winter Gardens this weekend.
Protesters waved rainbow flags and handed out leaflets containing comments made by Mr Graham in the past.
These included “I love (gay people) enough to care to warn them that if they want to continue living like this, it’s the flames of hell for you’ and ‘I believe (Islam) is a very evil and wicked religion’.
Ove Joshua, 31, visiting Blackpool from London: “It’s really beautiful to see. It shows how special Blackpool is. I think people need to see there’s resistance and people aren’t ashamed of resisting. They can come out and be proud and that’s how people learn.”
Kate Yates, from central Blackpool, said: “I’m here to show my support for the LGBT community which is estimated to be around 10 per cent in Blackpool. I’m objecting to Mr Graham’s visit which I see as a sign of intense provocation. I feel that he’s deliberately creating problems within our community. It’s very divisive.”
And Joani Singleton, from Reads Avenue, said: “I’m here to let people know that there’s plenty of us and we deserve the same rights and respect as everyone else. I was approaching retirement when I discovered who I was and since then my life has improved phenomenally.
“We are not freaks, we’re not loonies, we’re just ordinary people.”
A spokesman for the Billy Graham Evangelical Association, which Franklin Graham oversees, said the Festival of Hope would be ‘a postive and encouraging event with music, and also a message from Franklin Graham about the hope that can be found through a relationship with Jesus Christ.’
Some churches in Blackpool organised their own festival to coincide with the Festival of Hope.
The Rainbow Weekend will begin at 5pm on today with an inclusive communion service at Holy Trinity Church, Dean Street, South Shore.
Tomorrow at 3pm there will be songs of praise at St Stephen’s on the Cliffs on Holmfield Road. At 6.30pm there will be celebration and prayers with Liberty Church at St Paul’s Worship Centre on Egerton Road.