The Presidential Inaugural Committee for President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris is calling on the LGBTQ community to participate in several planned virtual inaugural events that reflect the theme of “America United,” an inaugural official told LGBTQ representatives at a Jan. 12 online briefing.
“We are looking forward to the inaugural ceremonies in which the American people and the world will witness the peaceful transition of power,” said Rina Patel, the inaugural committee’s Associate Director of Coalitions before a Zoom gathering of close to 50 representatives of LGBTQ organizations from across the country.
“This will mark a new day for the American people focused on healing our nation, bringing our country together and building back together,” she said.
Patel noted that the inaugural swearing-in ceremony for Biden and Harris, which will take place outside the U.S. Capitol, will not be open for in-person viewing and will be restricted mainly to members of Congress.
“In order to be mindful of COVID-19 guidelines there are no public tickets available for the inauguration,” she said. “I know some folks are excited about being in D.C., but we are really encouraging everyone to stay home and not to travel to D.C.”
At least three national LGBTQ organizations, meanwhile, were scheduled to hold their own inaugural celebrations in honor of the incoming Biden-Harris administration.
The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBTQ advocacy organization, announced it is joining “community partners” in holding a virtual LGBTQ Inaugural Ball on Jan. 20 called the Power of Unity.
“This not-to-be-missed virtual event will feature musical performances and special appearances from equality leaders across the LGBTQ movement,” a statement promoting the event says. Among the performers scheduled to appear, the statement says, is Billy Porter, the Grammy, Tony and Emmy Award-winning actor, singer and activist who stars in the FX hit series “Pose.”
HRC is billing the event as a fundraiser with suggested levels of donations of $400, $250, $175, $100 and $35, with financial supporters having access to an online reception and having their name posted as an official sponsor. But HRC says people can also attend the online Inaugural Ball free of charge by registering in advance of the event.
The Center for Black Equity, the D.C.-based national LGBTQ advocacy organization that organizes the nation’s Black Pride events, is holding its own virtual inaugural ball on Jan. 20, according to Executive Director Earl Fowlkes. Fowlkes said some LGBTQ elected officials were expected to speak at the event along with Reggie Greer, who served as the LGBTQ liaison for the Biden presidential campaign.
The LGBTQ Victory Fund, which raises money and provides logistical support for openly LGBTQ candidates running for public office, was scheduled to hold a virtual Inauguration 2021 fundraising event on Jan. 14.
In a statement on its website, the group said the event would celebrate “the queerest U.S. Congress in history!” a reference to the record number of LGBTQ candidates elected or reelected to Congress in the 2020 election. Nine U.S. House members and U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), were expected to appear at the Victory Fund event.
The Biden inauguration was scheduled to take place two weeks after the Jan. 6 Capitol riots in which hundreds of supporters of President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol building in a siege that took the lives of five people, including a U.S. Capitol Police officer.
The Biden-Harris inaugural committee has said it was working closely with the U.S. Secret Service, D.C. police, and a Capitol Police force with new leadership to ensure the security and safety of all those participating in the few in-person inaugural events.
Patel and Carrie Gay, another inaugural committee official, told the LGBTQ representatives at the Jan. 12 online briefing about at least three virtual inaugural events in which community-based organizations, including LGBTQ groups, could participate.
The two said one of the events scheduled for Jan. 18 was being organized in conjunction with the annual Martin Luther King Jr. National Day of Service. Community organizations throughout the country, including LGBTQ organizations, were being invited to organize events assisting those in need that would be publicized on the inaugural committee’s website, Gay told the briefing. Most of the events were to be virtual.
“Events will focus on COVID-19 relief and address challenges that have been exacerbated by the pandemic, such as poverty, hunger, racial injustice, homelessness, mental health and educational disparities,” a statement released by the inaugural committee says.
“The Presidential Inaugural Committee is asking Americans everywhere to participate in community service and urging them to sign up to volunteer at bideninaugural.org/day-of-service and encourage their friends, family, and neighbors to join,” the statement says.
Patel told the LGBTQ representatives participating in the Zoom briefing that the inaugural committee would welcome posting information on its website about their respective organizations participating in the Day of Service events and participation in at least two other official inaugural events.
One of them, scheduled for Jan. 19, is being billed as a nationwide memorial to remember and honor those who have lost their lives to COVID-19. Information released by the inaugural committee says it will take place mostly virtually beginning at 5:30 p.m. Eastern time, with a D.C. ceremony featuring a first-ever lighting around the Lincoln Memorial’s Reflecting Pool.
“Buildings across the country and the Memorial Pool will be reflected in the color of light amber, which I’m assured looks great on everyone and every building,” said Patel, who invited the LGBTQ representatives to submit an application form to be listed as a participant in the memorial from their home cities or states.
“I think this will be a great moment of unity and quite frankly a catharsis for the country for us to understand and reflect on the many lives lost to COVID-19,” she said.
Patel and Gay said yet another inaugural activity called the Field of Flags will serve as a fundraising event for community-based organizations across the country, including LGBTQ organizations. According to an inaugural committee statement, the committee will arrange for the installation of an “extensive public arts display” on the National Mall in Washington during the inaugural week.
It says the display will include “approximately 191,500 U.S. flags of varying sizes, including flags representing every state and territory, and 56 pillars of light.” The display will be widely televised and available for viewing online, the statement says, adding that Americans are being invited to become a symbolic sponsor of the flags in exchange for a donation that the inaugural committee will arrange for nonprofit community organizations to receive to help them carry out their mission of helping people in need.
“Those flags are being sponsored by folks who helped us build our flag page and make a suggested donation,” Gay told the LGBTQ Zoom briefing.
She was referring to a page on the inaugural committee’s website.
“If your organization is listed on that page you can submit a donation form and your network of people can donate directly to your group,” she said.
In addition to the swearing-in ceremony at the Capitol, the inaugural committee has announced only three other in-person events on Jan. 20, with all three involving the military.
Following the swearing-in ceremony and Biden’s inaugural address, then-President Biden, the new first lady, then-Vice President Harris and her husband — called the second gentleman — will participate in a Pass in Review, a longstanding military tradition in which Biden will review the readiness of military troops, according to a statement released by the inaugural committee.
“Every branch of the military will be represented in this event,” the statement says.
According to the statement, Biden, Harris and their spouses will next participate in a “Presidential Escort” from 15th Street, N.W. to the White House one block away. Similar to the Pass in Review at the Capitol, every branch of the military will also participate in this event by escorting the president and vice president in a walk to the White House with a U.S. Army Band performing along with the Commander-in-Chief’s Guard and Fife and Drum Corps.
The inaugural committee statement makes no mention of how Biden and Harris and their spouses will travel from the Capitol to 15th Street, but it’s presumed they will be traveling by presidential motorcade.
The inaugural committee statement says at some point during the day of the inauguration the new president and vice president and their spouses will go to Arlington National Cemetery for a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. They will be joined by former President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama, former President George W. Bush and Laura Bush, and former President Bill Clinton and former first lady Hillary Clinton.
Due to COVID-related restrictions, there will be no in-person inaugural parade, the inaugural committee statement says. However, the committee says a Virtual Parade Across America will take place on Inaugural Day that will “highlight Americans from all walks of life in different states and regions.”
It will feature musical acts, local bands, poets, and dance troupes,” the statement says.
Patel said the inaugural committee invited bands and other musical performers to apply to become part of the virtual parade, which was being organized by professional producers.
Adam Sulewski, vice president of the D.C. Different Drummers, an LGBTQ marching band, told the Blade the National Association of Lesbian and Gay Bands, of which the DC Different Drummers is a member, applied to perform in the virtual parade through a video it planned to produce. Sulewski said he did not know the status of the LGBTQ band association’s application.
Patel told the briefing that the deadline for applying by entertainers to perform in the virtual parade had expired last weekend. She said she would try to facilitate an exemption to the deadline if an LGBTQ entertainment group contacts her.
“We are excited about the possibilities and opportunities this moment presents to allow all Americans to participate in our country’s sacred inaugural traditions,” said Maju Varghese, executive director of the inaugural committee in a statement referring to the virtual parade. “This innovative programming will keep people safe and use new ways to bring Americans across the country – from rural towns and urban cities to younger and older Americans to everybody and everywhere in between.”
Information about viewing the virtual inaugural events organized by the Biden Presidential Inaugural Committee can be obtained at bideninaugural.org.
This article originally appeared in the Washington Blade and is made available in partnership with the National LGBT Media Association.