As many as several dozen LGBTQ activists wearing white robes and carrying photos of victims of gun violence were planning a procession along city streets from the As You Are LGBTQ bar on Capitol Hill on Wednesday afternoon, Dec. 7, to the nearby St. Mark’s Episcopal Church.
The church, located at 301 A St., S.E., was scheduled to host the 10th annual National Vigil for All Victims of Gun Violence beginning at 7 p.m. on Wednesday.
The New York City-based group Gays Against Guns, which is organizing the LGBTQ contingent, released a statement saying its members would be meeting at As You Are at 500 8th St., S.E. with LGBTQ “political, community based, nightlife, and gun violence prevention allies” to finalize plans for the procession a few hours before the start of the vigil.
Jay Walker, one of the Gays Against Guns leaders, told the Washington Blade the group and its supporters have scheduled a press conference at As You Are on Wednesday at 3 p.m. to draw attention, among other things, to threats and anti-LGBTQ protests against drag shows over the past two weeks in cities across the country.
Walker pointed to news reports of hostile protesters, some armed with guns, assembling outside bars or clubs holding drag shows in Columbus, Ohio; Lakeland and Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.; Aurora, Ill.; and Manhattan, Staten Island, and Oceanside, N.Y. within the past two weeks.
Most of these reported attempts to intimidate people patronizing or participating in drag performances took place after the Nov. 19 shooting at the Club Q gay bar in Colorado Springs, Colo., in which a gunman shot and killed five people and injured at least 17 more.
That shooting took place shortly before a drag show was scheduled to take place at the Club Q.
The National Vigil for All Victims of Gun Violence, set for 7 p.m. Wednesday at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, was to take place shortly after speculation has surfaced that opposition to a drag show was the motive that prompted one or more as yet unidentified suspects to fire multiple gunshots at electrical power substations in Moore County, N.C., causing a blackout affecting 45,000 residents.
Law enforcement officials investigating what they have said was a targeted attack aimed at knocking out the electric power substations also said they have no evidence yet as to what the motive was for the crime.
But in its statement released this week, Gays Against Guns said the attack on the power substations took place shortly after a drag event was held in the town of Southern Pines in Moore County that drew opposition and protests from far-right activists and anti-LGBTQ community members.
“Enough is enough!” the Gays Against Guns statement says. “Our communities must take a stand and issue demands of our elected leaders, law enforcement, and the greater polity to take action on this threat to all Americans.”
The latest incidents targeting drag shows have taken place after D.C. police announced shortly after the Club Q shooting in Colorado Springs that they were stepping up police patrols around D.C. LGBTQ establishments, including gay bars.
“At this time, there are no known threats to any events or locations in the District,” a Nov. 23 police statement says. “MPD will continue to monitor the developments in Colorado Springs and share information with our local, regional and federal law enforcement partners,” the statement says.
But a short time later, on Nov. 30, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security issued a terrorism threat bulletin warning that domestic extremists have posted online praise for the Club Q shooting suspect and have called for copycat attacks.
“Targets of potential violence include public gatherings, faith-based institutions, the LGBTQI+ community, schools, racial and religious minorities, government facilities and personnel, U.S. critical infrastructure, the media, and perceived ideological opponents,” the bulletin states.
“Some domestic violent extremists who have conducted attacks have cited previous attacks and attackers as inspiration,” the DHS bulletin continues. “Following the late November shooting at an LGBTQI+ bar in Colorado Springs, Colorado — which remains under investigation — we have observed actors on forums known to post racially or ethnically motivated violent extremist content praising the alleged attacker,” the bulletin says.
Mark Lee, coordinator of the D.C. Nightlife Council, a group representing bars, restaurants, nightclubs, and entertainment establishments, said the community nightlife businesses welcome the increased police patrols of these establishments.
“The local nightlife association has offered periodic security and active shooter training sessions for venue operators, managers, and staff for a number of years, most recently on Nov. 1 in conjunction with the restaurant association,” Lee said. “These specialized trainings feature presentations by both a nationally recognized training firm and DCNC affiliate member Nightlife Security Consultants and the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department,” Lee told the Blade.
“Nightlife hospitality establishments understand the importance of being constantly vigilant about, and prepared for, any and all incidents that could occur whenever people are gathered,” he said.
Walker of Gays Against Guns said participants in the planned LGBTQ procession from As You Are bar to St. Mark’s Church would be carrying photos or signs commemorating the LGBTQ victims of gun violence, including victims of the Pulse LGBTQ nightclub shooting in Orlando, Fla. in June 2016 in which 49 mostly LGBTQ patrons of the club were shot to death by lone gunman.
The Wednesday night vigil at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, among other things, will commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Sandy Hook, Conn., school shooting incident in which 26 people were shot to death, 20 of whom were children, according to a statement released by organizers.
“By this December, over one million Americans will be killed or injured by guns since the Sandy Hook shooting tragedy,” the statement says. “We urge you to join the gun violence prevention community in our collective effort to continue to shine a light on the devastating epidemic of gun violence in our nation until these gun deaths and injuries are reduced.”