'Each time that they have come in the past couple of months, they've gotten bolder.'
Experts and advocates in Washington, D.C., say that they're concerned about LGBTQ people's safety during President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration, given the presence of virulently anti-LGBTQ figures at the Capitol insurrection on Jan. 6 and promises by far-right groups to commit more violence in protest of Donald Trump's election loss, ahead of the swearing-in.
A mob of pro-Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, resulting in scores of injuries and at least five deaths. Donald Trump has since been impeached over his comments at a rally near the National Mall just ahead of that deadly insurrection, egging supporters on and telling them that the country would not be won back with "weakness," even claiming he would be with them on their march to the Capitol.
Trump's son, Donald Trump Jr., also spoke to the crowd at that event and ranted inexplicably at one point about transgender women athletes. The crowd responded with laughter over the transphobic remarks.
The comments were consistent with the Trump administration's agenda, which has mercilessly targeted LGBTQ rights at every turn. It comes as no surprise, then, that virulently anti-LGBTQ far-right groups attended that rally.
Among those in D.C. on Jan. 6 were John Hugo, the president of the group Super Happy Fun America, and Mark Sahady, the group's vice president. Super Happy Fun America was responsible for the 2019 Boston Straight Pride Parade, premised on the idea that straight people are an "oppressed majority."
The group's members are also connected to far-right factions such as the Proud Boys, a group of white supremacists who attend protests and demonstrations in order to commit violence. Additionally, Sahady is involved in Resist Marxism, a group that Boston organizers call violent. The group Solidarity Against Hate-Boston said in 2019 that Resist Marxism members had committed violence in the past that included "choking, shoving, punching" and had tried to invade and disrupt "trans rights rallies, & immigration rights rallies."
A video taken at the Boston Women's March in 2019 shows Sahady trying to put his hands on a transgender woman.
Hugo, who organized an 11-bus caravan from Massachusetts to D.C. for the Jan. 6 rally, told NBC Boston on Monday that the violence at the U.S. Capitol was the result of "some bad players" and repeated the false claim that some of those storming the building were antifascists.
There is no proof to back that claim, and U.S. officials have stated that there is no evidence thus far that antifascist groups were involved in the attempted coup whatsoever.
Super Happy Fun America also posted a Twitter photo the night before the Capitol insurrection which showed Sahady and fellow rally-goers on their way to D.C. The photo was accompanied by the caption, "Bus 1 of 11 coming to Washington DC. See you there!"
There is also evidence that white supremacist Tim Gionet, known as Baked Alaska, attended the rally and was among those inside the Capitol. In a video featuring Gionet and fellow white supremacist Nick Fuentes, the two are seen speaking to several teenage girls there, with Gionet telling one of them, "Being gay is wrong, of course." Fuentes also makes homophobic remarks in the video.
Some LGBTQ groups and individuals have said they are aware of the potential for violence against LGBTQ people during the inauguration by similarly discriminatory groups and individuals and are concerned about the rising threat.
The U.S. Marshals Service, Secret Service, National Guard, FBI, and other law enforcement agencies are ramping up security ahead of the inauguration, according to the Washington Post. The outlet reported possible threats during the inauguration could include "a plot by armed groups to encircle the White House or the U.S. Capitol and the inauguration event."
Additionally, an FBI memo obtained by ABC News on Monday warned that "armed protests" were being planned "at all 50 state capitols and at the U.S. Capitol."
Naseema Shafi, CEO at Whitman-Walker Health, a health center focused on serving LGBTQ people, said she is worried about the presence of right-wing extremists and their possible effect on the local community and essential workers, including those employed at the center.
"We have been watching this situation, and all of these last years of increased violence against the LGBTQ and BIPOC communities we are a part of, closely," she said. "Our D.C. LGBTQ and BIPOC communities have been at the front of asserting the rights of our communities and we are concerned about their safety."
She added that Whitman-Walker Health has safety plans in place "and [is] able to quickly shift to remote work and telehealth if the situation requires it."
Holly Goldmann, director of external affairs at Casa Ruby, a D.C. organization that provides social services and describes itself as an "LGBTQ safe space," said she's worried about staff and people who use Casa Ruby's services. Goldmann, who is a transgender woman, is especially concerned about the threat to the many transgender women of color the group serves.
"The majority of our clients and staff are trans women of color," she said. "This could put a serious disruption to food access and housing for everyone. Our homeless clients are the most vulnerable."
Experts on the far right have said that bigoted right-wing groups coming to Washington, D.C., to incite violence could become a regular problem moving forward. Already, a number have caused issues at previous D.C. rallies, intimidating the local LGBTQ community as well as those in other marginalized groups.
At a Dec. 12 rally, video showed Proud Boys shouting homophobic slurs at residents who had reportedly told them to go home.
One queer antifascist activist, who asked to be referred to as Chad for his safety, claimed he and his friends were targeted by a group wearing Trump hats he believed to be Proud Boys on Nov. 14. He claimed the group confronted them, macing them and stabbing him.
News reports from a stabbing on New York Avenue between 10th and 11th Streets that night match Chad's description of the events. The Metropolitan Police Department's public information office confirmed that they were still investigating the incident, but said no arrests have been made. A public incident report said that officers rendered first aid to "at least three lacerations."
The American Independent Foundation was able to view photos of Chad's wounds from that night, for which he was treated in the hospital.
"I thought I had been punched a few times ... Then I thought 'This doesn't feel like a punch anymore,' and I saw liquid on my side," he said. "I knew I had to be brave and take off my gloves and check ... I found out immediately that blood was gushing from my back."
Chad said he was concerned that the inauguration would prompt similar violence against LGBTQ people in D.C. in the coming weeks.
"Even in December ... they were attacking people who were strangers on the street who were not associated with the protest," he said.
He added, "Each time that they have come in the past couple of months, [they've gotten] bolder."
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.