New Yorkers who flocked to Washington, DC for the inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris were met with an eerily quiet atmosphere on the ground.
“There was no big protest or counter-protest to the fascist,” long-time queer activist Lisa Fithian told Gay City News. “But there was a lot of messaging and creative things that had happened.”
However, Fithian, who made the journey from the Big Apple to Washington, DC on January 20, explained that New York activists used art to make their voices heard. Gays Against Guns (GAG), a queer-driven gun violence prevention organization, plastered signs near the Capitol that read “End White Terror” and “Disarm Hate.” In a video, GAG demanded the new administration denounce racism.
“My hope for the administration is that you spend real attention to the way white supremacy has spread throughout law enforcement in this country,” Jay Walker, an organizer of GAG, said in a video posted on the group’s YouTube channel. “At the local level, at the state level, at the federal level, and also at civil defense. We need your administration to address this problem.”
Tricia Cooke, a member of GAG and the Reclaim Pride Coalition, which organizes an alternative Pride march in Manhattan, said there were several armed officers on the ground.
“I kind of know what it feels like to be in a bit of a war zone and that’s what it felt like,” said Cooke, who posted flyers for GAG in DC ahead of the inauguration. “Even more so because it was just National Guard and soldiers.”
However, outside of some demonstrators and journalists, Cooke said the nearby area was a “ghost town.”
During the afternoon, attendees said there was an increase in people gathering at Black Lives Matter Plaza, a two-block-long pedestrian section at 16th Street NW. Fithian said many people were anxious to come outside because of the pandemic and due to the deadly Capitol riots on January 6.
“For the most part, people are afraid,” Fithian told Gay City News. “Afraid of violence and COVID too, so a lot of people are staying home.”
Even some loud and rambunctious anti-LGBTQ demonstrators made a pit stop in DC for the inauguration and harassed queer folks who were walking by on the street.
Although the energy in Washington was different than in past years, Fithian explained that there was a moment toward the end of the day when two men of color were cleansing the area near the Capitol. She described it as a mark of the end of a Trumpian era.
“It was a really powerful day with solemn, but powerful moments,” she said.
Still, in many parts of the US, LGBTQ people viewed the inauguration from home. Sunny Marks, a Black trans disability advocate from Philadelphia, watched the ceremony on their computer. Marks said they wanted to see more Black trans representation during the inauguration, though they told Gay City News they are cautiously optimistic of changes to come under a Biden-Harris administration.
“I think small steps of legislation are possible,” said Marks, who met Biden’s newly-appointed assistant secretary for health, Rachel Levine, during a workshop years ago in Pennsylvania. “But, I don’t think the changes are full liberation because we are still under white supremacy.”
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