January 18, 2013 | by Chris Johnson
Strike up the band
D.C. Different Drummers, Lesbian & Gay Band Association, Presidential Inauguration 2013, gay news, Washington Blade

Members of the Different Drummers prepare to march with the Lesbian & Gay Band Association in the 2013 Presidential Inauguration Parade. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

It won’t be hard to pick out the Lesbian & Gay Band Association amid all the other contingents on Monday during the 57th Presidential Inauguration Parade.

The honor guard will be carrying a rainbow Pride flag as it leads the rest of the band members across Pennsylvania Avenue. One of the selections the band will play is “Edge of Glory,” a hit from gay icon Lady Gaga. And the band members will be clad in fitted black outfits with purple accents.

Adam DeRosa, president of the Lesbian & Gay Band Association, says the outfits were chosen with a nod to symbolism.

“Purple is in some ways, if you’re going to narrow it down to one color, a much more of a universal for the gay community,” DeRosa says. “And for the camera, again, we wanted it to be something that was really going to stick out.”

The band association — an organization of 32 local bands from across the country — will send 240 members to participate in the second-term inauguration of President Obama — a U.S. president who rode into re-election with a message of support from the LGBT community after, among other achievements, coming out in favor of same-sex marriage and repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

DeRosa, a 37-year-old French horn player with the Ft. Lauderdale-based South Florida Pride Wind Ensemble, said the LGBT achievements seen under the Obama administration are one of the reasons he and other association members want to take part in the inauguration — taking particular note of the victory on Election Day for marriage equality in Maine, Maryland and Washington State.

“Because we’re a national and international group, we have, for instance, a band that’s in Seattle, and we now have members of the organization that are married since that election in November,” DeRosa says. “This is very real to us, and we absolutely are honored to part of it in that respect.”

In addition to the rainbow flag at the head of the unit, the honor guard in front will bear an American flag and a flag representing the band association. Members will carry state flags to represent each of the local bands participating in the contingent — making for a total of at least 20 flags.

Besides Lady Gaga, other songs the band is set to play are standard brass tunes intermixed with modern songs. On the playing list is a mashup of “Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “Simple Gifts” as well as “Gimme Everything Tonight,” a more recent song by Pitbull. When the band reaches the glass box where President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama will sit, the band will break into a rendition of “Tonight” from “West Side Story.”

Other local members involved in the association express similar excitement about participating in the parade based on work that President Obama has done on LGBT issues during his first four years in office.

Rachel See, a 37-year-old transgender French horn player for the Capital Pride Symphonic Band, says participating is “just a real honor” because, as an attorney for the National Labor Relations Board, she was helped by Obama’s memoranda instituting non-discrimination protections for transgender U.S. government employees.

“As a federal employee, I came out as transgender last year and the policy the administration has put into place supporting transgender federal employees and transgender people across the nation have been wonderful,” See says. “I’m glad to see that it was done and look forward to the next four years.”

Derrick Johnson, a 27-year-old black gay man and drum major in D.C. Different Drummers, says he feels “a symbolic connection” with Obama because they share the same race and because of the leadership Obama has exercised on LGBT issues during his first term.

“The correlation is definitely there,” Johnson says. “Breaking that barrier of the stereotypical president definitely helped to create a shift in thought and mindset in our country, and hopefully our world, in acceptance of differences and various demographics — and also coming down the pike and seeing his outright acceptance of gay rights definitely speaks highly toward the African-American community.”

D.C. Different Drummers, Lesbian & Gay Band Association, Presidential Inauguration 2013, gay news, Washington Blade

Members of the Lesbian & Gay Band Association marched in the 2009 Presidential Inauguration Parade. (Washington Blade file photo by Henry Linser)

It’s not the first time the association has participated in the inaugural parade. For the first time ever, the association was selected to march in the 2009 inaugural parade after Obama first won election to the White House. During the inaugural festivities for former President Bill Clinton, the group performed on the sidelines, but didn’t take part in the inaugural parade itself. The association didn’t participate in the inaugural festivities for former President George W. Bush.

Lacey Janet Rose, the Presidential Inaugural Committee’s deputy director of constituency press, says inauguration organizations are thrilled the association — which was selected among 2,800 bands that submitted applications — will have the opportunity to take part in the inaugural parade a second time.

“We are thrilled that the Lesbian and Gay Band Association has accepted their invitation to join President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden’s Inaugural parade,” Rose said in a statement. “The 2013 parade participants will showcase extraordinary talent and reflect the vibrant diversity of America. President Obama and Vice President Biden are proud to have the participation of the Lesbian and Gay Band Association for the second time in history.”

DeRosa, who’ll perform in the parade in a non-musical role as an honor guard, says despite the excitement, members were asked to commit to take part as the application was being compiled even before election results were known — regardless of whether the winner was Obama or Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

“We basically had a pre-registration for us to understand who really was committed to this, but again, that was all happening prior to the election results, so people were really committed to being part of this event really regardless of what the outcome was,” DeRosa says. “So the gist of that alone logistically has helped us out. We had a much firmer number in our application to know exactly how many people, and because of that, we see that we’re going to have a larger group than we did last time.”

A number of prominent public officials supported the band’s application to perform. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Rep. Ed Pastor (D-Ariz.) and Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) were among 30 lawmakers who sent letters to the committee advocating for the association’s participation.

Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wassserman Schultz, who represents DeRosa’s district of Fort Lauderdale in Congress, expressed similar excitement about the band’s participation in the parade in a statement issued by the association.

“I have been deeply heartened by President Obama’s commitment to creating one of the most open and inclusive administrations in history,” Wasserman Schultz says. “By choosing the LGBA for the Inaugural Parade this spirit will continue by treating Americans to the performance of a talented, worthy and deserving musical group.”

It’s because of this sense of openness and inclusion that DeRosa says association members are eager for a repeat performance in the nation’s presidential inauguration festivities.

“We feel a little bit more confident this time around since we’ve done it before,” DeRosa says. “But definitely still exciting, definitely still a lot of work to do. And really just trying to make it to be really representing the community as best as we can and see that we’re going to give an experience to our members that’s something they won’t forget.”

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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