From the vantage point of the U.S. Capitol, attendees at the inauguration of Joe Biden as the 46th president of the United States saw tremendous potential in the new administration, including change for LGBTQ people after four years of Donald Trump.
Biden’s swearing-in ceremony was in many ways like none other in recent history, not just because he was assuming office after Donald Trump. While supporters normally swarm the National Mall and high-profile attendees pack the steps of the U.S. Capitol, the combination of fear over coronavirus and an armed National Guard preventing violent insurrection warded off spectators.
But scarcity served as a source of beauty representing change to a new era. Visually, that was exemplified by the array of nearly 200,000 flags on the National Mall, which represented those unable to attend the inauguration and lit up the grounds in colorful splendor.
Biden himself drew on the scarcity during his inauguration speech, urging those watching the ceremony to say a silent prayer in memory of the more than 400,000 Americans who lost their lives in the past year to the coronavirus.
“Those four hundred thousand fellow Americans, moms, dads, husbands, wives, sons, daughters, friends, neighbors and co-workers,” Biden said. “We will honor them by becoming the people and the nation we know we can and should be.”
The lack of a crowd also fit the occasion for a nation still recovering from an attack on the U.S. Capitol, instigated by former President Trump, which left at least five people dead. The attack led Biden’s speech, although he quickly pivoted to saying the transition of power at the inauguration was a repudiation of the violence itself.
“We’ve learned again that democracy is precious,” Biden said. “Democracy is fragile. At this hour, my friends, democracy has prevailed.”
The weather also cooperated to add dramatic effect. Almost on cue as the ceremony began with Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s (D-Minn.) speech, snowflakes began to fall from the clouded sky onto the U.S. Capitol. But just as Biden was about to take the Oath of Office, the clouds parted and a warm sun granted a respite from the cold.
At the same time, a sense of joyousness was palpable as attendees and many onlookers were eager for the Trump era to come to an end and a new administration with Biden and Kamala Harris as the first woman of color to serve as vice president.
Former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, whom Biden selected as secretary of energy, was in attendance and talked to the Blade about her emotions that day.
“A new page, joy, unity, love — all of the things that we have not experienced over the past four years,” Granholm said. “I’m so excited that Joe Biden is bringing a sense of hope and light back to the country. So, it’s a wonderful day.”
For the LGBTQ community, the Biden inauguration represented change after four years of the Trump administration, which instituted anti-LGBTQ policies such as a transgender military ban, refusal to enforce civil rights laws to protect LGBTQ people and green-lighting anti-LGBTQ discrimination in the name of “religious freedom.”
Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), the senior openly gay member of the U.S. House, set the stakes high and said the Biden administration will “finally achieve full equality” for LGBTQ people.
“This is the beginning of a presidency with a president fully committed to our equality,” Cicilline said. “He’ll be a great champion for the LGBTQ community, has made a commitment that the Equality Act will be taken up and passed in the first 100 days, and he will sign it. So, this is the beginning really of a chapter in our history of our community that we will finally achieve full equality.”
Cicilline said he anticipates introducing the Equality Act in the new Congress in early February and is currently working on building the number of co-sponsors for the bill.
Pete Buttigieg, who made history as a gay presidential candidate and has been nominated by Biden to serve as transportation secretary, was also present at the ceremony with his spouse, Chasten Buttigieg. The former South Bend mayor gave a wave from afar upon spotting the Washington Blade at the ceremony.
Chasten Buttigieg, speaking to the Washington Blade while wearing a plaid face mask, said the LGBTQ community can breathe a “sigh of relief” with the new administration in place.
“Hopefully, that means the Biden administration is going to get to work very quickly, making sure that the community feels protected, uplifted and appreciated in a way it hasn’t in the last four years of the Trump administration,” Chasten Buttigieg said.
Biden made significant promises to the LGBTQ community during his presidential campaign, including signing the Equality Act into law within 100 days. Biden was also set to reverse Trump’s transgender military ban and sign an executive order implementing the U.S. Supreme Court decision against anti-LGBTQ discrimination under federal law.
Rep. Dina Titus (D-Nev.), the sponsor of the GLOBE Act to prioritize LGBTQ human rights at the State Department and an early supporter of Biden, said the president was already making good on his promises, pointing to the nomination of Rachel Levine as assistant secretary of health.
“I think you’ve seen from his selections for his Cabinet — now you see the new trans person probably for HHS?” Titus said. “He’s gonna stand by his notion that the government should look like the people and that certainly includes the LGBT community.”
Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) was at the ceremony and said easing the ban on gay blood donations would be on Biden’s agenda for the LGBTQ community.
“We’re gonna pass equality, we’re gonna deal with the blood ban — all the things that we’ve been working on for so many years,” Quigley said. “So, this is a great new day and I just can’t wait to work with the community.”
This article originally appeared in the Washington Blade and is made available in partnership with the National LGBT Media Association.