Tens of thousands of families from across the country converged on the South Lawn of the White House Monday for the Easter Egg Roll, a presidential tradition that has continued for more than 130 years. This year’s event, however, was colored by more than just eggs and jellybeans, but also by more than 100 same-sex families who participated.
The 2009 Easter Egg Roll marked the first time that an administration reached out to the LGBT community and encouraged same-sex couples with children to attend.
In previous years, tickets were given out on a first-come, first-served basis the Saturday before the event, but this year they were distributed via the Internet, and the White House Office of Public Liaison allocated tickets for about 110 same-sex families to such organizations as the Human Rights Campaign, Family Equality Council and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, to be dispersed among their supporters.
Jesse Salazar, former Pennsylvania LGBT Vote Director for the Obama campaign, said the administration asked him to get in touch with local same-sex couples who are active in the LGBT community and extend the invitation to participate in the event.
Salazar said he sent out a series of e-mails to identify interested families and, although the available slots filled up within just a few minutes, he received more than 100 calls over two weeks from local LGBT families inquiring about the event.
In 2006, about 100 same-sex families attended the event, but without an explicit invitation, and were accused by LGBT-rights opponents of “crashing” the event.
Salazar noted that the effort to include same-sex families demonstrates the new administration’s commitment to diversity.
“These families often feel marginalized, and to know that they can stand in front of the White House and attend this national event with a sense of pride and to know that they are welcomed with sincere warmth by their hosts shows a landmark change in this country,” he said.
Chris Anders, brother of openly gay Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge Dan Anders, and his partner, Aaron Schuham, also brought their kids, Isaiah, 7, and Grace, 19 months, to the White House for the festivities.
“The kids were excited for the Easter Bunny, but for us as parents the exciting part was that for the past eight years, the White House, including the White House Easter Egg Roll, was not a welcoming place for LGBT families,” Anders said. “The outreach done this year by the White House to gay and lesbian couples with kids was an important sign of change within the new administration.”
Joan Lau, director of business development at Merck, and her partner, local psychiatrist Brook Zitek, attended with their 3-year-old daughter Natalie.
Lau said that while Natalie was overjoyed by the plethora of kid-friendly characters, such as Dora the Explorer, who were meeting and greeting the kids, her parents were enthused by the symbolic nature of the day.
“It was really, really refreshing to get invited,” Lau said. “It was a complete and total change of what everyone was used to over the last eight years or so. It was refreshing to be counted just as one of everybody else.”
Joy Verner, assistant to the dean of students at Dickinson College near Harrisburg, and her partner, Sue Waldner, brought their four children, who range in age from 2-9, to the Egg Roll, and Verner noted that while the high volume of participants was a bit overwhelming at times, she and her partner were heartened to see the number of LGBT families throughout the crowd.
“We got to see all these families who are just like ours,” Verner said. “Just the fact that they were interested in families like ours and in seeing families like ours come to the White House was really great.”
The event featured storytelling, soccer and yoga activities, musical performances by Fergie and other artists and the annual egg decorating and egg hunt and roll.
Dr. Mark Woodland, a local gynecologist and the associate dean for graduate medical education and program director of the obstetrics/gynecology program at Drexel University College of Medicine, and his partner, David Blum, an area lawyer, traveled to D.C. with their children, Scott, 10, and Ashley, 7, and said it was a perfect way to celebrate his son’s birthday and kick off the family’s spring-break vacation.
“It was a real kid and family event, and in this time of economic hardship, this was certainly a worthwhile thing for the government to put a few dollars toward,” Woodland said.
He added that LGBT families who traveled from New York City brought an array of rainbow leis with them to share with other same-sex families, but that those identifiers were not needed, as the crowd was accepting of families of all types.
“The neat thing about the event was how inclusive it was and how well everyone seemed to get along,” Woodland said. “Truly there were people there from all walks of life.”
Salazar said the inclusiveness of this year’s celebration helped to validate same-sex families and can serve to fuel the confidence and drive of children of LGBT couples.
“For those kids to stand on the lawn with the president and know that one day they can reach that height is a tremendous shift, a tectonic shift, at how we in this country are aspiring to be better.”