When Barack Obama took the oath for his second spin around the Oval Office, 14 members of the San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band were there to honor him in the streets of D.C. Joining 215 musicians from 17 states across the country, they marched with the Lesbian & Gay Band Association (LGBA) mass band, the only LGBT-identified group listed among the 60 contingents marching in the 57th Inaugural Parade. Leading the pack as part of a cadre of six drum majors was the Freedom Bandâ€™s Drum Major Emeritus, Kim Boyd.
Itâ€™s not Kimâ€™s first time around the block with LGBA at an inaugural parade. 2009 was history making. In 2009, Obamaâ€™s inaugural committee selected LGBA as the first openly LGBT group ever to march in a presidential inaugural parade, and Kim was one of three drum majors out front conducting the 140-member unit. Although Kim stepped down from drum majoring the Freedom Band a couple years back, he picked up the drum majorâ€™s mace again in a heartbeat for this president. A 20-year veteran of the Ohio and California Army National Guard, Kim told me he marched in this inaugural parade for three reasons: Obamaâ€™s repeal of DADT, Obamaâ€™s support of Marriage Equality and Tammy Baldwin. â€śI canâ€™t stop crying about this whole thing,â€ť he wrote in an email, â€śand am honored LGBA asked me to participate.â€ť
So what music do you play in a parade for the Leader of the Free World? Apparently, time-honored formulas work for this too. The artistic team (led by Marita Begley from NYC) programmed something old, something new: a traditional medley of Battle Hymn of the Republic with Simple Gifts and rapper Pitbullâ€™s Give Me Everything Tonight. Something borrowed, something red-white-and-blue: Tonight from Leonard Bernsteinâ€™s West Side Story and the Star Spangled Banner. Because weâ€™re gay, a little Gaga â€“ The Edge of Glory. And because weâ€™re gay and representing, The Wedding Song Medley, to honor Obamaâ€™s famous change of conscience and because we were on national TV and itâ€™s not bloody well likely they would have stopped the parade for any homophobic music critics standing along the parade route.
I slip easily into using â€śweâ€ť here. I didnâ€™t go to D.C. for Obamaâ€™s second inauguration, but I played with LGBA for the first. It was exciting to be part of history at a time when the president-elect made it cool to hope. It was also, hands down, the most surreal performance experience Iâ€™ve ever had. The 2009 parade stalled when Ted Kennedy suffered a stroke at the inaugural luncheon just before the parade was scheduled to start. By the time our busses were allowed to proceed to the Ellipse to line up for the parade, it was getting dark. If youâ€™ve ever been in D.C. in January, you know why they schedule the parade for daylight. Icy wind cut through our silver LGBA jackets, and the warming tent couldnâ€™t hold the entire parade at once, so groups cycled in and out of the tent, facing the D.C. tundra in turns.
It was after 6 pm by the time we lined up with other bands and floats. The record-breaking throngs had gone inside to defrost, and the only people under the streetlights with us were ranks of Army soldiers in khaki fatigues standing shoulder to shoulder the entire length of the parade route. At every intersection, a Disney-trained game-show emcee announced in Brill Cream tones, â€śAnd Now Welcome!... the Lesbian & Gay Band Association!â€ť And weâ€™d hoist our horns, play a song and lower our horns, our music echoing up the silent street. At one intersection, a lone soldier clapped, and I suddenly knew the sound of one hand clapping.
Just when Iâ€™d decided the whole event was a bust, we turned onto Pennsylvania Avenue. Sticking out over the street was the Presidential reviewing booth, and Barack and Michelle and Joe and Jill were bundled up and waving from behind bullet-proof glass. Obama stayed for us when everyone had gone home. The next day, we found videos of our performance splashed all over internet with comments about what it meant to see LGBT people marching for the U.S. President.
This yearâ€™s parade was an exciting celebration of all the milestones Kim ticked off. Just like the 2009 parade, Obama stayed for us. The LGBA contingent has grown from 140 to 215 musicians plus an honor guard carrying flags from all 17 states represented, and Iâ€™m proud of my friends that represented us in this celebration.
The Inaugural Committee placed our band just behind the Civil Rights Movement float, sporting one of President Obamaâ€™s favorite quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: â€śThe arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.â€™â€™ Thatâ€™s our most favorite parade route of all.