CHARLOTTE, N.C. — In less than two weeks, Don Niehus will be a part of history as he joins 200 of his fellow LGBT band mates in President Barack Obama’s second inaugural parade in Washington, D.C.
Niehus, who has played the trombone since fourth grade, is a founding member of the Charlotte Pride Band, a band with primarily LGBT members from Charlotte and the surrounding areas. In the nation’s capital, he’ll join other LGBT band enthusiasts marching in the 200-strong Lesbian and Gay Band Association contingent in the parade, scheduled to start after Obama’s inauguration on Monday, Jan. 21.
Niehus says he’s excited about the opportunity. A lifelong Democrat, Niehus voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012. He also once lived in Washington, D.C., and served on the national board for the Lesbian and Gay Band Association, making his participation in the parade even more memorable.
The Lesbian and Gay Band Association first marched in an inaugural parade in 2009. It was the first time an LGBT group had been invited to participate in the event.
“Nationally, we’re going to have members from around the country,” Niehus says of this year’s contingent. “It’s a total of 215 people.”
Niehus says the national group was one of more than 2,800 applications to participate in the parade. The group received approval of its application last month.
Participants travel to Washington, D.C., for the event at their own cost. Niehus is the only member of the Charlotte Pride Band, a member of the Lesbian and Gay Association, who will be participating. Two members of the N.C. Pride Marching Band in the Raleigh-Durham area will also participate, he says.
Before moving to Charlotte in 2008, Niehus also lived in Philadelphia. A few months after he left, an LGBT band was formed there. And, after his participation in the 2009 inaugural parade, Niehus says he and some friends were inspired to start the Charlotte Pride Band.
For Niehus, music is a deeply personal experience. Participating in an LGBT-affirming musical group is also powerful.
“Any musical experience is gratifying and an outlet for creativity,” says Niehus, who also performs with the Carolinas Wind Orchestra and is a former member of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Charlotte. “Being in a gay group has the additional benefit of affirming ourselves to the whole community and to the non-gay community as well.”
The inaugural parade is slated to start in the afternoon after Obama’s inauguration at the U.S. Capitol. In past years, the event has begun late but it should be broadcast on C-SPAN, Niehus says.
info: Learn more more about the inaugural parade at 2013pic.org/about/parade. You can visit the Lesbian and Gay Band Association at gaybands.org and the Charlotte Pride Band at charlotteprideband.org.