September 19, 2020 at 6:50 pm EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Ginsburg ‘was a hero for us’
(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

LGBTQ people emerged as a visible contingent in the crowd of more than a thousand that spontaneously turned out on the plaza and steps in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday night after learning of the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

A small group of LGBTQ people carrying three large rainbow flags along with an American flag became the hub of clusters of LGBTQ people joining hundreds of others on the court’s marble steps to mourn the passing of someone they described as a champion of equality for all and a hero for LGBTQ people.

“As soon as I learned of the unfortunate passing of Justice Ginsburg I decided to come down and pay my respects and to show this country that we loved her and everything she stood for,” said gay activist Gary Lin, who waved both a rainbow and an American flag while standing on the court’s steps.

Standing a few feet away from Lin holding another rainbow flag was gay activist John Becker, a member of the D.C. Gay and Lesbian Activist Alliance who said he came representing himself.

“I’m here with other LGBTQ people to honor one of our heroes, somebody who has steadfastly stood with our community and protected and expanded and safeguarded our civil and human rights,” Becker said.

“And actually, this is a black stripe on my flag that I tied to it the day of the Pulse [LGBTQ nightclub] shooting to symbolize the LGBTQ community in mourning,” Becker told the Washington Blade. “And I’ve never taken it off and it seemed appropriate tonight as we mourn one of our heroes.”

Northern Virginia resident Meg Zajac, who said her wife is a transgender veteran, expressed concerns shared by other LGBTQ people who assembled Friday night outside the Supreme Court about who will succeed Ginsburg on the high court. U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said he will arrange for a Senate vote to approve a Supreme Court nominee as soon as President Trump submits a nominee to the Senate.

LGBTQ rights advocates and legal observers have said that an expected appointment by Trump of a far-right conservative justice would almost certainly change the balance of the current often divided court, placing in jeopardy many of its longstanding and more recent decisions expanding the rights of LGBTQ people.

“Our marriage, our existence, our job protections — they’re all in question,” Zajac said while standing on the court’s steps. “We’re scared. We need to be with each other to support each other because I know this has been emotionally devastating,” she said in referring to Ginsburg’s passing. “So, for many of us, we need to know we aren’t alone, that we aren’t going through this alone,” she said.

“So, this is a memorial. This is a celebration of an amazing life, but it’s also a support system for each of us,” she said.

D.C. trans activist Charlotte Clymer said she too came to the site of the high court to honor Ginsburg’s life accomplishments.

“Like the thousands of people who have come through here tonight, I think Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a hero for us,” Clymer said. “She fought for us, she fought for our equality and her life was dedicated to making sure no one gets left behind,” said Clymer. “We want to make sure we’re continuing that fight, and I think that’s why you see so many people here right now.”

Like many of the other LGBTQ activists who turned out at the Supreme Court Friday night, Clymer criticized McConnell for blocking a Supreme Court nominee of President Obama in 2016, when he said he wanted to wait until after the presidential election to give the American people a chance to “speak” before the Senate would vote on a Supreme Court nominee.

But now, Clymer others pointed out, McConnell has disregarded his earlier rationale and plans to allow a vote by the GOP controlled Senate on a Trump nominee.

“So, all we really have as an option is to educate the American public about what they’re doing and then fight like hell to block it,” Clymer said. “And that’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to fight like hell.”

Many in the crowd, which remained at the Supreme Court until well past midnight, placed dozens of lit candles on the court’s steps as a tribute to Ginsburg. Others placed hand written messages next framed photos of the late-Supreme Court justice expressing their love and admiration for her.

A message written in chalk on the court’s plaza in front of the steps where the activists displayed the rainbow flags stated, “Equality: Wouldn’t have the right to be who I am without RBG — a queer immigrant Latinx woman.”

D.C. Councilmember Brooke Pinto (D-Ward 2) was also among those who turned out Friday night to pay tribute to Ginsburg.

“I have been incredibly inspired by her as a person, as a lawyer and as an advocate throughout my life,” Pinto said. “And I’m close enough by in the city to be here tonight and do my very, very small part in honoring her incredible contributions to our country.”

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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