Area man marches in Inauguration Day parade

Van Morrow hoists the Lesbian and Gay Band Association's official flag during a Sunday rehearsal in Baltimore for the upcoming Inaugural Parade. Photo courtesy of Van Morrow.

Forgive us the Onionesque headline: Van Morrow, a longtime Livingston Manor resident and business owner, is indeed an Area Man.

He's also a member of the Lesbian and Gay Band Association (LGBA), a group of gay and lesbian marching bands that will be marching with pride (cymbal crash) in the 57th Inaugural Parade on Monday, January 21. Among the eight floats, 59 groups and marching bands, over 8,800 people and about 200 animals that will process in pomp and circumstance down Pennsylvania Avenue on Monday, Catskillians can keep an eye out for at least one local face.

Like President Barack Obama, Morrow is celebrating his second Inauguration Day: Morrow marched with the LGBA at Obama's first inauguration in 2009, the first time any lesbian and gay organization had the honor of marching in a U.S. president's inaugural parade.

The Watershed Post caught up with Morrow on the eve of the big day at a Baltimore hotel, where he and 213 other LGBA marchers were counting down the hours before boarding a 5:15am bus to the ceremonies.

Watershed Post: How did you get involved in the LGBA?

Van Morrow: The LGBA is an organization which has member bands from around the US and Canada, and there's one in Australia. I have been a member of the Lesbian and Gay Big Apple Corps, which is New York City's gay and lesbian marching band. New York City is probably the closest one to the Catskills. I've been a member of that band since 1985.

WP: What instrument are you playing?

VM: I'm in the honor guard. I was baritone sax last time. This year I applied a little late, but it turned into a very good thing, because they added the honor guard, and they decided to have people carrying flags from each of the states that have a member band. There's also an American flag, the flag of LGBA -- which is the one I am carrying -- and the rainbow flag. So you've got 23 flags that march right up front behind the banner, followed by the color guard doing flag and movement routines.

WP: How do you practice, with everybody coming from different bands around the country to do this?

VM: The music is sent in advance to the people who are going to participate, so they get a chance to look at it ahead of time. In their home cities, if there are enough people going, they will have one or two run-throughs of the music, so that when they convene for the weekend, at which most of it is put together, they will have already played it several times. Everyone has marching and musical experience, so people know what they're doing before they get here. Then it's rehearsed and the rough spots are worked out.

WP: This is your second parade, right? What was it like, marching in the inaugural parade for the first time?

VM: Part of it is definitely the message that is sent out by having a gay marching contingent in the Inaugural Parade. And part of that message that I'm talking about would probably be felt by people who either are afraid to come out to work and their families -- I think the people in a lot of the smaller cities where the huge gay activities don't happen all the time, they don't see this stuff. In New York, everyone goes, "Yeah, that's nice." But in small-town America, you don't see this. There are a lot of kids who don't have any positive role models, and see all these messages of a life of doom and gloom. They might see this on TV and feel some hope from it. That's part of it.

The importance of doing this gig -- you cannot imagine the scrutiny. Fox News will say one thing about it, and -- what do I say? We're really under the microscope tomorrow. I know that. And not only for the performance of the band.

WP: You guys are a powerful symbol. Some people will see you as a symbol of hope, and some people will see you and say, "That's it, we're all going to hell in a handbasket."

VM: Absolutely. But the band is so good. I believe any good will outweigh any bad spin that's going to happen from it.

WP: What songs are you playing tomorrow?

VM: "Tonight" from West Side Story, which is going to be our showpiece tune -- that's what we're going to play when we pass where the Obamas will be watching the parade. "Edge of Glory" by Lady Gaga. "Give Me Everything" by Pitbull. And "Simple Hymn," it's a medley of "Simple Gifts" and "Fanfare for the Common Man" by Aaron Copland.

WP: Are you nervous at all?

VM: No. No. It is fantastic. It's one of those things -- when the stepoff happens, this feeling comes over you. It sounds so corny, putting it into words. Today I actually cried. A few people did.

Van Morrow runs Mountain Bear Crafts in Livingston Manor, is the founder and director of the local MountainTones Community Band, and was co-owner of the late Towne Crier, a Sullivan County community newspaper that was acquired by Catskill-Delaware Publications in 2006 and later ceased publication. He lives in Livingston Manor with his partner, Bruce Shenton.

Below: LGBA photo of their 2013 Inaugural Parade marching band.