Gay families join Easter Egg Roll
by Bob Roehr
The South Lawn of the White House glistened emerald green from the rain and the temperature was downright chilly, but that did not dampen the spirits of the LGBT families who were among the 15,000 people participating in the annual Easter Egg Roll on Monday, April 17.
"We had a really good time. It was a lot of fun," said Jennifer Chrisler, executive director of the Family Pride Coalition, which coordinated LGBT family participation. She attended with Cheryl Jacques and their 4-year-old twins Tim and Tom. The Massachusetts residents are married. Jacques is the former president of the Human Rights Campaign.
"I think we helped people see that gay and lesbian people are raising children. And we, like all families, want to do really fun, amazing things with our kids like the White House egg roll," Chrisler added.
The event is a tradition that dates from 1878, the legacy of Rutherford B. Hayes, a largely forgotten president. It is one of the few times of the year in this security conscious age that the grounds are open to large numbers of citizens.
"It is a time for families, and we welcome all families and their children who want to come and participate," said White House press secretary Scott McClellan.
At least one Bay Area couple participated. San Francisco residents Trey Lathe and Guy Berryessa took part in the festivities with their daughter Emma, 4.
Family Pride's participation sprang from the grassroots and was sparked by controversy arising over an episode of the PBS kids' show Postcards from Buster, in which Buster, the animated bunny, visited a lesbian couple in Vermont who were raising children. News of the forthcoming episode evoked opposition from social conservatives and Education Secretary Margaret Spellings called it inappropriate for children. PBS pulled the episode.
That left some parents feeling vulnerable. "Was our daughter supposed to pretend that she didn't have two moms?" Colleen Gillespie, a research profession at New York University, told the Los Angeles Times . "We exist and want to participate in public events."
And so they hatched a plan for LGBT families to attend the egg roll, with Family Pride taking a lead role. "So many people don't ever have a chance to see our families and this was a way to let them do that," Chrisler said. Their participation was planned not as a protest but as a celebration.
The event is free but tickets are required and were distributed on a first come basis on Saturday morning. Family Pride joined other veterans of the event who camped out by the visitors center on the Ellipse the night before in order to get tickets. "I was out all night on Friday night," Chrisler said.
Then there was another line on Monday morning as people were let on to the White House lawn in groups of about 250. "The rain wasn't too bad in the morning," Chrisler said. "But just as we were headed into the holding area prior to the lawn itself, it just poured. It was wet and it was cold. Most of our people got soaked."
There was one glitch along the way. Last year, those who waited in line were let in about 9 a.m. but this year it wasn't until about 11. A special group of White House staff and families and invited volunteers went first, as has sometimes been done in the past.
That meant that President and Mrs. Bush, who appear at the start of the egg roll, had left the grounds by the time the group with lots of gay families entered. First lady Laura Bush, who oversees the event, had previously said that all families were welcome to attend. She made those comments after some conservatives complained about the gay families' plans to participate.
Chrisler acknowledged "a change in procedure. But we were just happy to go and when we got in wasn't as important to us ... our twins had a super time, they really, really enjoyed it."
The members of Family Pride all wore rainbow Hawaiian leis to increase their visibility.
"Once we got there, it really just became about having a good time. The kids had a blast," said Cathy Renna. The former spokeswoman for the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation was there with her partner and 7-month-old daughter. "The toddlers just went nuts."
"The reaction [from straight couples] was overwhelmingly positive," Chrisler said. "At the end of the day, everyone who was there was focused on one thing and that was their kids. That was exactly how we wanted the day to go."