LGBT activists and protesters displayed rainbow flags in the city of Blackpool to protest American evangelist Franklin Graham and the three-day "Festival of Hope."
"I'm glad to be in Blackpool, England, to preach the Gospel at the invitation of 200 area churches. This morning I went down to the historic Blackpool Tower where my father Billy Graham stood back in 1982 when he came here to preach," Graham wrote on Facebook Thursday, ahead of the first day of the evangelistic event.
"Will you pray this weekend, that many will turn to Jesus Christ and find the hope and peace that only He can give?" he asked.
Some LGBT and Muslims groups, along with a few Christian churches and local politicians in Blackpool, have spoken out against Graham this past year, arguing that he has preached messages on same-sex marriage and Islam that they find offensive.
The Guardian reported that the Blackpool Tower, mentioned by Graham, will be lit up in rainbow colors and will fly an LGBT flag in opposition to the conservative Christian evangelist.
"The council is a strong supporter of all equalities issues and we use the rainbow flag and its derivatives on a regular basis to demonstrate that support across the whole year," a council spokesperson said.
Some politicians, such as Gordon Marsden, the Labor MP for Blackpool South, had even asked the U.K. home secretary to revoke any visa granted to Graham due to what he said is the latter's "inflammatory views" toward Muslims and LGBT people.
In July, LGBT activists pressured Blackpool Transport to pull bus ads promoting the "Festival of Hope."
Jane Cole, managing director at Blackpool Transport, apologized for ever allowing the ads in the first place.
"Blackpool Transport is a proud ongoing supporter of the Pride and LGBT+ communities and in no way did we intend to cause any distress or upset," Cole said at the time.
The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, of which Franklin Graham is president, acknowledged the controversy in an article about the "Festival of Hope" on Friday.
It said that no matter the "hostility" that Graham is facing, hope remains that "God will move greatly during the evangelistic event."
"My message will be the simple Gospel message: a timeless message of God's hope, love and redemption for all people," Graham said. "Regardless of the hostility, I plan to preach the Word of God in Blackpool."
The BGEA urged people to pray that there is "no more opposition to the Gospel message and the festival's success," and asked that the negative media attention does not prevent people from coming to the Sept. 21–23 events.