The invitation to a free dinner at a four-star hotel in Bellevue starts out by thanking law enforcement officers for their bravery and service and goes on to promise an uplifting message, fellowship and practical wisdom from God’s word.
That invitation showed up in the inboxes of Seattle Police Department employees on Wednesday, according to a copy of the departmentwide email obtained by The Seattle Times. On Friday, police Chief Adrian Diaz revoked the email invitation because the dinner, billed as a law-enforcement appreciation event, is reportedly hosted by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. The invitation was signed by the association’s CEO, Franklin Graham, a conservative, second-generation Christian televangelist who has a history of opposing LGBTQ rights.
The email to SPD employees was sent by the department’s Wellness Unit after being approved by the unit’s lieutenant, according to the original email.
Diaz sent his own departmentwide email just after 4:30 p.m. Friday and a message was posted on the department’s online blotter, stating that based on “Graham’s history and affiliations,” concerns had been raised that SPD does not fully support the community’s LGBTQ members.
“I want to make clear the Department fully supports the equity and just treatment of all people. The SPD did not sponsor this event and is not connected in any way to its hosts,” Diaz wrote in the Friday email sent to employees. “This email is meant to rescind the invitation sent through department email because the event’s hosts do not share the inclusive values of the SPD.”
Sgt. Randy Huserik, an SPD spokesperson, said he didn’t know how the invitation was extended to SPD or what internal discussions occurred before it was emailed to employees. He said he would’ve preferred that any officers offended by the invitation had reported their objections through their chain of command, instead of going outside the department.
“If you’re not aware of an issue somebody has, you can’t do anything to resolve it,” Huserik said. “Obviously it was not the department’s intent to offend the LGBTQ members of the department and the LGBTQ community at large.”
Seattle City Council President M. Lorena González, who is running for mayor, questioned why the invitation was sent at all, given Graham’s well-known anti-gay stance.
“There is no legitimate reason why the Seattle Police Department should be promoting an anti-LGBTQ, far-right group, and this incident just shows the importance of the next mayor in choosing a police chief who can reform the department’s culture,” González said in an emailed statement. “Actions like these undermine trust between SPD and Seattle’s LGBTQ community, which is tenuous at best.”
One Seattle police officer — citing the ongoing murder trial of fired Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in last year’s killing of George Floyd — said the dinner “is just a bad idea” and never considered attending.
The officer, who is not authorized to speak to the media and spoke on condition of anonymity, has heard “nothing good” about Graham’s organization.
“I hit delete so fast,” said the officer. “This is not the time. Law enforcement should be concentrating on getting things right.”
Anthony Derrick, a spokesperson for Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, said Friday that Diaz quickly resolved the issue and responded appropriately in stating Graham’s organization does not align with SPD’s values.
“As a gay woman and mom of two, Mayor Durkan has fought for LGBTQ rights for decades and continues to work with Chief Diaz to ensure SPD reflects the diversity and inclusivity of our community,” Derrick said in an email.
King County Sheriff’s Sgt. Tim Meyer said Friday he hasn’t seen a similar email and doubts one would ever be forwarded to sheriff’s employees, because policy prevents them from accepting any gratuities.
“We can’t accept a cup of coffee or anything of value. We can’t take a discounted sandwich, so we certainly can’t take a free dinner from Franklin Graham,” Meyer said.
According to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s website, law enforcement appreciation dinners are organized by the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team as part of its National Law Enforcement Ministry. Dinners are scheduled for May 5-6 for police in the Vancouver-Portland area, May 11-12 in the Seattle area, and Oct. 25-28 in Asheville, North Carolina.
The association, based in Charlotte, North Carolina, sent a statement Monday to The Seattle Times saying the dinners are intended to show appreciation to the law enforcement community, which “has faced a demoralizing change in climate and increased lack of support.”
“Regardless of their beliefs, sexual orientation, or the color of their skin, it doesn’t change in any way the fact that we are deeply grateful for the jobs they do and the sacrifices they make. They deserve our support and to know how much they are appreciated,” Franklin Graham said in the statement, which noted that the event is not taxpayer-funded. “Even though the email from Interim Seattle Police Chief Diaz announcing the event has been rescinded, our invitation and the dates still stand. I hope many officers in the surrounding areas will take advantage of this special night dedicated to them.”
According to the invitation, the local dinners will be held at the Hyatt Regency Bellevue.
In March 2020, NBC News reported that Franklin Graham’s association had set up an overflow hospital for COVID-19 patients in New York City and put out a call for “Christian volunteers.” That news story referenced a 2014 video interview published by The Charlotte Observer, in which Graham accused gay people of “recruiting children” into their “cause”; applauded Russian President Vladimir Putin’s so-called gay propaganda law as a method of “protecting his nation’s children”; and accused the Obama administration of pushing a “gay and lesbian agenda.”
An ardent supporter of former President Donald Trump, Graham criticized last year’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling protecting gay and transgender people from employment discrimination, The Hill reported, quoting a post Graham wrote on Facebook: “Christian organizations should never be forced to hire people who do not align with their biblical beliefs and should not be prevented from terminating a person whose lifestyle and beliefs undermine the ministry’s purpose and goals,” Graham wrote, according to the D.C.-based political news site.
Jim Ritter, an openly gay police officer who retired from SPD in July, said Diaz was right to rescind the invitation and suggested there was a lack of communication between the Wellness Unit and the chief’s office. He said perceptions matter, not just to current employees but to anyone considering joining the force.
“If I’d seen this memo, I’d ask myself, ‘What’s going on here? Do they support us or is it lip service?'” said Ritter, who continues to train police officers across the country on ways to improve relations with their communities’ LGBTQ members. “I think it would do the department a disservice to be aligned in any way” with Graham’s organization.
“We’ve worked very hard over a long period of time to overcome the department’s reputation towards this community, which when I was hired, was not good at all,” said Ritter. “I have confidence SPD — compared to the department I joined in 1983 — is light years ahead of where we were and I’m very proud of that.”