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Interview: Members of Local Gay and Lesbian Band to March in Inauguration Parade

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For the first time in U.S. history, a marching band comprised of Americans identified as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer, will perform in the Presidential Inaugural Parade. Of the 177 musicians from twenty six states representing the Lesbian and Gay Bands Association (LGBA), four will represent Los Angeles.

In a statement released earlier this month, President-Elect Obama said of the variety of bands selected to perform tomorrow, "I am honored to invite these talented groups and individuals to participate in the Inaugural Parade. These organizations embody the best of our nation's history, diversity and commitment to service." Members of the LGBA previously performed from the sidelines during President Clinton's inauguration, but this will mark the first performance in the formal parade. LAist talked to Mary Erikson, a local baritone player in the Great American Yankee (GAY) Freedom Band, before she headed to Washington D.C.

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LAist: How did the opportunity arise to perform at Obama’s Presidential Inaugural Parade?

Erikson: The Lesbian and Gay Band Association (LGBA), which is an organization comprised of local marching bands around the US and around world, was one of ninety bands to be selected from a record number of applications to march in the parade. Individual selection for the LGBA's presence at the Inaugural Parade required registering online and clearing a background check with the Secret Service. The overwhelming number of people who attempted to register caused the computers to crash on the opening night of registration. The next morning, registration resumed and participants were asked to register by instrument. Eight baritone positions were allotted and I am very fortunate to have received one of those positions. Another member of the LA Great American Yankee Freedom Band will also be playing baritone, and two other members will be participating in the piccolo section.

LAist: Tell us about the Great American Yankee Freedom Band in Los Angeles.

Erikson: The Great American Yankee Freedom Band celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2008. It was founded in 1978, with a purpose to promote visibility and equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. It’s actually the second oldest gay music organization, behind San Francisco’s Freedom Band, and was a founding member of the national Lesbian and Gay Band Association. Also, for the fifth year in a row, the Freedom Band has provided scholarships to benefit students of the arts in the LA Unified School District who show commitment to increasing awareness of social justice and LGBT issues. We practice on Tuesday evenings at the Hollywood Lutheran Church.

LAist: How did you first become involved in a marching band?

Mary Erikson:
I am the eighth of nine children, all of whom played a musical instrument at one time or another. The baritone I play was my father’s. He played it in the mid-1930’s in the new Auburn High School Band (in Wisconsin). His brother, my uncle, played it in the 1940’s and I played it in 1977 in the same high school. While I was living in Wisconsin after my father had a stroke, a community band was started in New Auburn and again, I played my dad’s baritone. My dad died in 2003 from pancreatic cancer.

I’d heard about LA's Great American Yankee Freedom Band when I lived in the Los Angeles area in the 1990’s. Then while at the Long Beach Pride festival in 2008, a friend and I stopped by the band's booth there. Last summer, after my mother said I could have my dad's baritone, I shipped it to California and joined the Great American Yankee Freedom Band. It’s been a blast, and everyone I’ve met through the band has been wonderful.

LAist: This is the first inaugural parade with an LGBTQ band. What is the significance of this to you?

Erikson: It may sound like a cliché and a song but along with the honor of participating in this event, I really do feel pride. I’m proud to be an American, a lesbian, an educator, and a member of the 2009 LGBA inaugural marching band. I am excited and hopeful for the future of our country and for the individual rights and freedoms, for all people in the US and around the world. This parade, this inauguration, is the beginning of the change that President-Elect Obama spoke of during his campaign.

I have been out to family, friends and co-workers for thirty years, to varying degrees, and it has been empowering to speak openly about marching in the parade and specifically about the Lesbian and Gay Band Association. Everyone's been very supportive and excited for me.

In regards to the national significance, the Lesbian and Gay Band Association is a virtual cross-section of America, featuring hundreds of musicians and performers from 23 states and the District of Columbia. Our ranks include individuals from a wide range of occupations, ethnic groups and religions - in short, all walks of life. While the fact that we are gay is historically significant, it is also significant that we are accomplished musicians who have worked hard to get here and plan to give the marching performance of our lives.