It's a time-honored American tradition: a parade. And it celebrates a uniquely American milestone: the inauguration of a new president.
And in strictly American tradition, some participants are strictly non-traditional.
The Lesbian and Gay Band Association, the country's first openly gay marching band, will be among the school and military bands strutting down Pennsylvania Avenue on Monday as part of President Barack Obama's second inaugural parade.
"It's very special," said Adam DeRosa of Fort Lauderdale, the national association's president. "We understand the historical nature of it."
The band made history in 2009, when it marched in Obama's initial inauguration, the first gay and lesbian group to do so. But this time around it's even more significant, said Marita Begley of New York, the association's artistic director.
"Last time there was possibly a political benefit," she said. "The fact that he put us in the parade again this time tells me that it was not purely symbolic. This feels like real legitimacy."
Michael Leigh, 48, Wilton Manors, a French horn player making his first appearance in the inaugural parade, agreed that such a high-profile performance signals a new level of acceptance for gay and lesbian musicians.
"They're going to look at us like we're just a normal band now," he said.
DeRosa, 37, who works at Broward College, will be one of four South Florida musicians who will march with the 215-member band. Besides Leigh, the other local musicians are David DeVargas, 38, Wilton Manors, and Rick Wolfe, 50, of Miami Beach.
DeRosa will put down his French horn to concentrate on his duties of office. There are rehearsals to rush through, buses to hire and credentials to procure.
"Everybody had to go through a tremendous amount of security and clearance," DeRosa said. "I'll be really focusing on the logistical end of it," he said.
That involves 175 performing musicians, along with an honor guard bearing the U.S. and rainbow flags, and marchers displaying flags from members' various states. The approximately 1,500-member national organization also includes 31 member bands in different regions.
The four songs the band will perform were selected for their significance to America, the Obama administration and the gay community.
They will play a combination of the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" and "Simple Gifts," a Shaker tune. Also on the playlist: "Give Me Everything (Tonight)" by Miami rapper Pitbull, who was active in Obama's campaign; "Edge of Glory," by Lady Gaga, who identifies as bisexual; and "Tonight" from "West Side Story" by Leonard Bernstein, who struggled with his homosexuality.
With music selections resolved, all that remained was to settle on a uniform. Four years ago, band members were clad in black shoes, slacks and beret, with thin silver sateen jackets. Due to the cold, however, many members layered warmer clothing under their jackets. A fashion no-no.
"A lot of people were not happy about the way we looked," Begley said. "Some people said we looked like the Michelin Man, or foil-wrapped baked potatoes."
New uniforms -- and fundraising to cover their $8,000 cost -- were painstakingly debated. The band opted for black shoes and slacks, with two-tone purple over black jackets. Capping it off: a black Australian cowboy hat and snowy plume.
The letters LGBA are emblazoned on the jackets' back.
"The look is very sharp, but it wasn't to the point of looking flamboyant," Begley said. "Purple's a very gay color. We wanted to look gay, but we didn't want a set of boas."
The band will follow a civil rights float and precede a Native American women's group as it marches along the 1.6-mile, 25-minute parade route.
Such inclusion of gays and other minorities is a signal from Washington that thresholds of acceptance have been crossed, band members said.
"This is a parade that's a tapestry of all the things that make up this country," Begley said. "It feels like the president is saying, "These people are Americans, welcome to the table.' "
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