Obama Inauguration Unforgettable for LGBT Band

President Obama started his second term this week with a renewed — and historic — pledge to fight for LGBT rights.

In his inaugural address Monday before a sea of about 700,000 people on the National Mall, Obama stressed that LGBT rights would be a priority of his next four years, marking the first time LGBT rights have ever been explicitly referenced in a presidential inaugural speech.

“Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law, for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well,” the president said to loud applause.

He went on to call for equal rights for women, minorities and immigrants and also likened the LGBT-rights movement to other civil-rights struggles — on a day that the country also honored the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths — that all of us are created equal — is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone, to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth,” Obama said.

Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin hailed the history-making moment of the address.

“By lifting up the lives of LGBT families for the very first time in an inaugural address, President Obama sent a clear message to LGBT young people from the Gulf Coast to the Rocky Mountains that this country’s leaders will fight for them until equality is the law of the land,” Griffin said. “The president’s unequivocal support for equality is a clarion call that all Americans should receive with celebration.”

Members of the Philadelphia Freedom Band who participated in the Inaugural Parade got an almost-firsthand witness of the address.

Band president Patti Calandra said the 11 local members who marched and performed with the Lesbian and Gay Band Association — which brought a total of 215 members from across the country to participate in the parade — were waiting on a bus for one of the many security checkpoints at the Pentagon during the speech.

“While we were waiting, they put the address on the radio on the bus. We were all of course listening very closely and when he mentioned the gay community, calling us out by name, we were just cheering,” she said. “You could look back at the other busses behind us and knew that the same thing was happening with them. It was a little strange to think we were there for the event yet listening to it on the radio, but it was still great to be able to hear that.”

Band member Michael Toklish agreed.

“When President Obama referred to Stonewall, mouths dropped. When he referred to ‘our gay brothers and sisters,’ band members applauded, cheered and some outright wept with joy,” he said.

The parade experience itself was equally memorable, Calandra said.

Freedom Band made its inaugural appearance in the parade four years ago, when the band, which was just getting off the ground at that time, sent two members to participate with LGBA.

This year, all the participants were given the music ahead of time and headed to Baltimore days before the parade to start practicing together.

“People were converging from all over the country and meeting up at the same place so there was a lot of excitement,” Calandra said. “But then we just had to buckle down and work and focus on what we actually came there to do. We had to play the music together, all learn to march to the same commands. There were a lot of outdoor rehearsals, marching around parking lots, to keep formation and get used to hearing and seeing the signals from the drum majors. We had to put the excitement on the back burner for a while and focus on getting the performance right.”

Toklish noted the performers marched the equivalent of more than 12 parades in rehearsals.

The group had to be in uniform and on the busses at 5:15 a.m. on Inauguration Day and had to get used to lengthy wait times, as they went through numerous security checks and waited for the parade to kick off.

When they hit the street, the march itself only lasted about 40 minutes, she said. But, she added, it was a remarkable 40 minutes.

“Along the actual route we got a really good reception, people were cheering a lot for us,” she said. “And once it was over and we started turning our phones on, so many people had had videos and pictures sent to them of us performing. All the news outlets put out a lot of coverage on television of the performances, which was great.”

Toklish noted that CNN captured the band passing the presidential box, and Obama’s applause.

In addition to getting the message of LGBT inclusion out to spectators who watched the parade on television from home, Calandra said the band’s participation was eye-opening for others at the parade.

“We had students from a middle school in Alabama come up to our members and tell their stories. There was one 14-year-old girl who came up to our saxophone player, saying, ‘I’m so glad you’re here. I’m in the eighth grade and I’m gay, and my best friend is bi.’ And to be able to have someone there to share that with, I felt like these young people could see that this isn’t something scary or bad. They saw this huge group of people all there in support of the same thing.”

From our media partners PGN-The Philadelphia Gay News.

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