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How the Gays Stole Easter: Remembering the 2006 White House Easter Egg Roll

On a rainy morning in 2006, dozens of LGBTQ families participated in the annual White House Easter Egg Roll in a show of visibility

On a rainy April morning in 2006, dozens of gay and lesbian families descended on the nation's capital. But they weren't there to protest. They were dressed in their Sunday best, ready to participate in a longstanding American family tradition: the White House Easter Egg Roll.


LGBTQ advocacy might be better remembered when it involves late night dance parties outside the homes of politicians, or when our political opponents are "glitter bombed" during speaking engagements. These actions speak to some of the best parts of our community; if we have to fight for our rights, we might as well have fun while doing it.

But back in 2006, the gay and lesbian parents assembled on the grounds of the White House on Easter Monday were testing a simple truth about our community: just living our lives—out and proud—has always been our most radical act.

Kyle Turner plays with daughter, Emma, while waiting for tickets to the 2006 White House Egg Roll. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The largest and most famous Egg Roll has taken place in Washington D.C. since at least the mid 1800s. But originally, the festivities took place on the Capital grounds. After a particularly rowdy Egg Roll in 1876 left the lawns of the Capitol decimated, however, lawmakers decided to pass one of the more insignificant pieces of legislation in American history: the Turf Protection Act.

The purpose of the law, aimed squarely at the Easter Egg Roll, was “to prevent any portion of the Capitol grounds and terraces from being used as play-grounds." When President Ulysses S. Grant signed the bill into law, he devastated the area's children and became the closest the Easter holiday has to a Grinch-like figure.

Two years later, when President Rutherford B. Hayes came to office, the Egg Roll found a savior in First Lady Lucy Hayes who decided to revive the tradition. Instead of rolling eggs on Capital grounds, however, she invited children to the lawns of the White House, where it has taken place every year since.

Over the years, the White House Easter Egg Roll has grown in size and importance. Each new administration, it seems, seeks to outdo the last. The Carters added a circus; the Reagans one-upped them with Broadway performers. The Obamas, who invited Beyoncé and Jay Z to make a surprise appearance last year, will be the toughest act to follow yet.

Today, the White House Easter Egg Roll is one of the hottest tickets in town, so much so that last year, 37,000 available tickets were handed out via public lottery. Back in 2006, however, tickets were still distributed on a first-come, first-serve basis, prompting many thousands of families to camp out overnight on the streets of D.C. to secure their spot.

And it was this peculiarity of the event—thousands of parents sleeping in tents overnight like tweens at a Justin Bieber concert—that inspired the idea for the “gay invasion."

In 2005, Colleen Gillespie, a professor at New York University, camped out with her partner to obtain tickets to that year's Egg Roll. She was struck by the easy camaraderie that formed among the other parents in line, which gave her a crazy idea: what if she could get hundreds of LGBTQ families to join her next year? What a perfect opportunity, she figured, for people to get to know gay and lesbian families.

She proposed her idea to Family Equality Council, a resource organizations for LGBTQ parents (then known as the Family Pride Coalition) who in turn put the request out to its members. The following year, dozens of families answered the call.

Kyle Turner was among the gay parents who camped out for the evening in 2006. After sending his partner, James, home to tuck in their 6-year-old daughter, Emma, he stayed up amiably chatting with the other parents. While it was certainly impactful to have so many gay and lesbian parents in line, he said, no gay parent seemed to think of his or her own presence as part of a “protest."

"It was just a really nice opportunity to come together with other parents," Kyle said, noting he often had more in common with straight people with kids than gays without them. "That's what was really cool about it."

But in the media, and in the culture wars—which were still raging strong in the mid 2000s—the presence of gay and lesbian parents at one of the country's longest running American family traditions would prove more controversial.

“They thought we were trying to infiltrate or something," Kyle said, reflecting back. “Well, if that's what you think, I guess let's infiltrate and we'll show you what we're all about."

Dominic and Rolf, with son Cyrus, at the 2006 White House Easter Egg Roll

The next day, early on Easter Monday morning, Dominic Russoli walked with his partner, Rolf, and 6-year-old son, Cyrus, towards the security checkpoint on the White House grounds. Dozens of other LGBTQ families walked alongside him.

“Here they come!" one of the guards said loudly, to no one in particular, as they approached.

“I remember laughing at that," Dominic said. “Here come the gays! I mean, what did he think we were going to do? Steal the drapes?"

Family Equality Council had alerted White House organizers of their plans to attend the Egg Roll, and made clear they had no intentions of being disruptive. The only thing that would differentiate them from any other family, they assured, would be rainbow leis draped around their necks.

“I had lived in Washington D.C. for 15 or 20 years by that point but had never been on the grounds of the White House," Dominic recalled. “It really wasn't meant to be a protest. Honestly, we just wanted to enjoy the attractions."

Still, dozens of news cameras greeted Dominic and the other LGBTQ families, asking their reasons behind staging the “protest." Their participation in the event had caused a “controversy," according to the New York Times, and was likened to an “invasion" in the Guardian.

All this when the LGBTQ families in attendance merely participated like any other. "We just helped our kids pick up their Easter eggs, like everyone else, and helped them go through the attractions on the grounds," Kyle recalled. "The normalcy of it all was probably what made an impact."

President Bush and the Easter Bunny during the 2006 White House Easter Egg Roll (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

In today's world, it can be hard to remember why a group of LGBTQ families peacefully attending an event at the White House would be cause for such spectacle. But while the 2006 Easter Egg Roll was only 11 years ago, it might as well have been the Paleozoic Era as far as LGBTQ rights are concerned.

We can now marry, adopt, and serve as foster parents in every state in the country. In 2006, during the waning days of the Bush Administration, only Massachusetts allowed same-sex couples to marry. Seven states were considering legislation to ban LGBTQ adoption. Six others codified discrimination into their state constitutions by limiting marriage to a union between a man and a woman.

The visibility of LGBTQ families, in particular, was practically nonexistent; this was still years before Modern Family began beaming a lovable gay family into living rooms across America.

“I don't know if there was ever a point prior to Easter Egg Roll where lesbian and gay families made such an effort to be so visible in such a large group," Dominic said. “At that time, 11 years ago, it really did seem momentous."

And while the show of visibility may have not have budged the Bush White House, it certainly made an impression on his successor: in 2009, even as he was still “evolving" on the question of gay marriage, President Obama announced he would be reserving over 100 tickets to the Easter Egg Roll for LGBTQ families.

No invasion necessary.

Kyle and James, with daughter Emma and a friend, middle, at the 2006 White House Easter Egg Roll

If a large group of gay and lesbian families made such a public display of visibility at the White House tomorrow, it might well be met with a shrug. We owe this to the breakneck speed at which we achieved progress under the Obama administration.

Still, we have so much left to do. Parents can be legally denied housing or fired from their jobs on account of their sexuality or gender identity in many states. We are often unfairly discriminated against at adoption and foster care agencies. But thanks to eight years of near constant progress, we could be forgiven for thinking it was just a matter of time before these issues, too, would be resolved.

But here we find ourselves in 2017 facing a situation practically no one could have envisioned: Melania Trump, not Bill Clinton, will be hosting the White House Easter Egg Roll this year. (That is, if the Trumps can scramble in time to pull it off.) Of course, it's too soon to tell what a Trump presidency will mean for LGBTQ families. But it seems safe to assume progress will be stalled, at best, over the next four years.

So maybe a mass gathering of LGBTQ families in 2017 isn't such a quaint idea after all. Time to break out the rainbow leis again?

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Change the World

11 Family Stories That Show the Depth of the Adoption Experience for Gay Men

November is National Adoption Awareness Month! To celebrate, we've curated some adoption stories that show the true depth and breath of the adoption experience for gay men.

November is National Adoption Awareness Month! And few people are more aware of the importance of lifting up and celebrating adoption in this country than the LGBTQ community. According to the Williams Institute, 21% of same-sex couples are raising adopted children compared to just 3% of different-sex couples. Despite the fact that we are a crucial part of the support system for children needing loving homes, we are currently facing an administration that is trying to make it legal for foster care and adoption agencies to discriminate against us on the basis of religion.

To help celebrate National Adoption Awareness Month, and demonstrate that religious beliefs should in never trump the ability for a loving LGBTQ family to welcome children into their home, we've rounded up several family stories that show the true depth and breath of the adoption experience — men who never planned to become dads, and woke up one day to find themselves responsible for little ones. Men who always wanted to become dads, and suffered through years of failed placements before finally making their dreams come true. Single men, who realized they were strong enough to adopt on their own. And men who adopted older children through the foster care system.

These are just a few of the inspiring stories of gay, bi and trans adoptive dads — we are literally sitting on a treasure trove of them. And, no doubt, there are countless more headed your way in the months to come.

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Change the World

"Dadvocates" Gather in D.C. to Demand Paid Family Leave for ALL Parents

"Dadvocate" and new gay dad Rudy Segovia joined others in D.C. recently to educate lawmakers on the need for paid family leave for ALL parents

On Tuesday October 22, Dove Men+Care and PL+US (Paid Leave for the United States) led the Dads' Day of Action on Capitol Hill. A group of over 40 dads and "dadvocates" from across the states lobbied key member of Congress on the issue of paid paternity leave for *ALL* dads. They shared stories of their struggles to take time off when welcoming new family members and the challenges dads face with no paid paternity leave.

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Change the World

A Gay Fertility Doctor Opens Up About His Own Path to Parenthood

Parenthood is the "one and only job" held by the majority of the population, wrote gay fertility doctor Mark Leondires in a recent op-ed for The Advocate

Dr. Mark Leondires, founder of the fertility clinic RMA of Connecticut, has helped thousands of LGBTQ people become parents over the years. But in a recent op-ed for The Advocate, he discussed his own path to parenthood as a gay man, and some of the lessons he's learned along the way.

"Similar to most gay men I struggled with the coming out process," Dr. Leondires wrote. "I strongly desired to be a parent. And as a fertility doctor I knew this was possible. What was enlightening was after we had our first child is that in the eyes of my community, I went from being a gay man or gay professional to being a parent just like most of my straight friends."

Dr. Leondires goes on to say his reasons for opening up about his parenting journey is to offer some perspective LGBTQ people who are considering parenthood. "Once you have a family you will have this common bond with the vast majority of our population and something they can relate to — having children," he wrote. "You are no longer someone living this "special" lifestyle, you are a parent on a shared journey."

Being a parent is the "one and only job" held by the majority of the population, he continued. "It is also the only job you can't be fired from."

Understanding this commonality helped Dr. Leondires in his coming out process, he said. "I had to be proud of my family because I want them to be proud of our family," he wrote. "It wasn't about me anymore. The reality is that 5-7% of patients identify as LGBTQ+, and there may be a greater likelihood that your child might be LGBTQ+ because you are. Therefore, you need to be proud of who you are and who your family is, establish and maintain this foundation unconditionally."

Read Dr. Leondires entire essay here.

Personal Essays by Gay Dads

Raising Grounded Kids in Crazy Manhattan

When it comes to raising kids in Manhattan, Dr. Evan Goldstein lives by this lesson — less is more.

There are several lessons that we all learn as we continue to age on this wacky place called earth. But I learned one of life's most important nuggets my first year of medical school, and it has never left me. I remember this one night in particular—it was late, and I had been studying when I realized I forgot an important book in the stacks of the library. Thankfully, a janitor opened the locked door and allowed me to retrieve my belongings. I remember it took him a while to open the locked section that I needed to enter, as he had so many dangling keys on his keychain. He responded to me gazing at the lock by saying, "Son, I may only be a janitor without any education beyond high school, but I have seen medical student after student enter this school for the past 25 years. Can I give you some advice?" "Of course," I said. "Do you see all these keys on this keychain?" he said. "Every single one holds a new responsibility. Less keys, less responsibility. Less is more! Remember that my friend." And with that, he was gone.

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Popular

"We're Dads, the Greatest Thing We've Ever Been": Congrats to Gay Men Whose Families Recently Grew!

Wishing all of these gay dads whose families expanded a lifetime of happiness! Congrats to everyone in our community on their recent births and adoptions!

Gay men go through a lot of ups and downs on the path to parenthood. It can be one of the most emotionally draining times in our lives. But as each of these families who are celebrating births and adoptions this month agree: it's worth every hardship.

Congrats to the dads whose families grew this month!

Congratulations to dads Ryan and Sebastian on the birth of their son, Máximo!!

Ryan and Sebastian's path to fatherhood was through surrogacy and their journey took nearly five years from start to finish. "There were many ups and downs and we almost gave up — but are so glad we didn't!"

"Holding Máximo for the first time was something we will never forget," shared Ryan. "He was looking up at us and we were just overcome with love and joy."

This new family of three live in Long Island City, New York.

Congratulations to dads Andy and Mike on their birth of their son Bennett!

In July this year, Andy and Mike became first time dads through surrogacy when they welcomed their son Bennett.

"We are absolutely in love with our baby Bennett! He's doing awesome and his Daddy and Papa have been rewarded with a lot of big smiles! He sleeps a lot and is generally relaxed as he learns about the world around him. He's made us happier than we knew possible and we feel incredibly blessed that he is the culmination of our wonderful surrogacy journey."

Even though their son is only 3 months old, they're already starting to think about and plan for his sibling! Congrats dads!

Congratulations to dads Bryan and Zachary on the birth of your son Spencer!

Three years ago, husbands Bryan and Zachary moved from New York City to Dallas, Texas to start a family.

"Like for most, our journey had many uncertainties with ups and downs along the way," said Bryan. "When you stop and really think about everything that goes into the process and has to take place, it's a true miracle and we feel blessed."

On August 26 this year, their son Spencer was born through surrogacy. "Patience, hope, support and remembering what's eventually to come helped my husband and I during the most stressful times. Now that Gates is here, it's hard to even look back."

"Holding Gates for the first was a true miracle - my husband and I finally took a breath. At that moment, the three of us created our new family and everything was exactly how it was supposed to be."

Congratulations to dads John and Ryan on finalizing the adoption of their son Connor!

When John and Ryan in 2004, they both knew they wanted to be parents. They were married in 2005 and started their journey as foster parents in 2009. They first became dads when their son Cody, then an infant, came to live with them. His adoption was finalized in 2013.

"After Cody's adoption, we 'closed' our home and actually moved a few times before joining the foster parent community again in 2018. When we decided to look to foster and adopt again, Cody was fully on board and that was a big part of our discussions about timing."

Their son Conner was placed with them as an infant in May 2018. Connor's adoption was finalized on October 16, and he was 19 months old at the time.

"Adoption day was a whirlwind," shared John. "We were first on the docket for the judge and he made quick work of finalizing his placement and formally making Connor a member of the family!"

The forever family of four live in San Antonio, Texas and would love to connect with other families like theirs.

Congratulations to dads Matt and Ian on the birth of their son Rocco!

Denver couple Matt and Ian had been dreaming of the day when they'd become dads. The husbands have been together going on 8 years, married for 5, and had picked out their son's name even before they were married.

"The journey to fatherhood has been a long and emotional one," shared Matt. "After our first fertility clinic placed roadblocks in front of us for almost two years, we changed to a new once and suddenly found ourselves on a pace far quicker towards fatherhood. We engaged a surrogacy agency to find our gestational carrier after two attempts to do it ourselves, and ended up with someone who was so far and beyond what we ever could have imagined, we cannot imagine the journey without her. We call her our angel not just because of her selfless act but for her guidance along the way as a mother herself."

From their first 13 embryos, one little one tried to hang on but didn't quite make it to the end. After several years of trying up, they decided to give it one more go and were able to produce 6 eggs, one of which resulted very quickly into a multiplying, healthy and genetically viable embryo - the last of 19 attempts. "The day we found out that our little bundle of cells had matured, we unexpectedly lost my Grandfather on the same day – a stark reminder of the cycle that is life. We gave our son the middle name of Keen as it was one of my late grandfather's signature words to use. 'Oh, that's so keen...' is a phrase I can still hear him saying to me as a child."

On July 26, the dads welcomed their son Rocco! "We are blessed now with a sleeping, funny, expressive and engaged little spirit in our lives. The process was tough, emotional and downright exhausting. The moment he showed up though, let out a scream then looked at his with his funny little furled brow, every single appointment, lost night's sleep, worry and tear was collectively worth it. We are Dads … and that is simply the greatest thing we have ever been."

Congratulations to Travis and Jay on finalizing the adoption of their son Kathan!

Travis and his husband Jay began their path to fatherhood a little over three years ago when they began the certification process to adoption through the foster care system. "After a little over a year and a half in the making we got the call on June 3rd 2018 at 11:30am. That day changed our lives in so many beautiful ways," said Travis.

At just 4 days old, the dads brought their son Kathan home, and 16 months later, they celebrated his adoption being finalized. "It felt like we had been set free as a family for the first time."

Kathan's adoption day was incredibly personal for the dads so they spent it with close family and took Kathan out for celebratory brunch.

Congrats to this Orange County forever family of three.

Congratulations to dad Derek and Zack on the birth of their daughter Georgia!

On October 18, 2019, dads Derek and Zack, and big brother Hank, welcomed Georgia to the family. The family is over the moon!

"Zack and I were lucky to be able to work with the same surrogate that helped us with our son Hank," said Derek. Their family journey experienced a significant setback when one of their fertility clinic's embryo storage tanks malfunctioned, and they lost all their genetic material - 11 fertilized embryos - that Derek's sister and Zack had donated to create their family. Luckily, Derek's sister was incredible and happily flew out to donate her beautiful genes again.

"Our family is truly the living embodiment of the love of our extended family and our carrier Raelene (and her family) have for us and our dream to meet our children. Meeting Georgia, for me, was the realization of all those feelings of love and hope we felt throughout our journey."

Congrats to this San Francisco family of four!

Congratulations to dads Rob and Scott on the birth of their daughter Sierra!

Rob and Scotty's journey to fatherhood started in December 2014, and they became first time dads eighteen months later when their son Ryder was born through surrogacy. In early October this year, they welcomed their daughter, Sierra, also through surrogacy.

"Holding her for the first time was amazing and warmed our hearts completely," shared Scotty. "Our son loves his baby sister and is very protective of her!!"

Huge congrats to this Sacramento family!

Congratulations to dads Brian and John on the birth of their son Weston!

Brian Wall and his fiancé John Agricola live in Toronto, Canada, and they recently welcomed their son Weston into the world on November 13.

"Our path to fatherhood was made a little simpler because my first cousin offered to be our surrogate," said Brian. "It took about a year total from picking an egg donor and our first successful embryo transfer on March 13."

When the dads first held their son they both agreed it was the most emotional experience they've ever had. "So grateful to our surrogate and he is a healthy boy!!"

Congrats to this new family of three, and can't wait to see wedding photos from your upcoming nuptials!

Congratulations to Ricky and Jeff on finalizing the adoption of their daughter Kylie!

Ricky and Jeff finalized the adoption of their youngest on November 8, the biological sister to their son Kadyn.

"Her birth mom knew that she couldn't take care of her and wanted us to have her," shared Ricky. "We went through the county again and we were able to adopt Kylie 6 months after her birth. The extra cool experience this time around was the fact that we were invited to be there to be part of the birth."

To be finalize Kylie's adoption was "amazing" said the dads. "It means that nothing and no one can do or say anything that would effect her being with us, which almost happened about a month before the adoption day."

Congratulations to this Californian forever family of four!

News

United Nations Calls on Cambodia to End Criminalization of Surrogates

Cambodia's 2016 law criminalizes surrogacy — and requires women who work as surrogate to raise the children they conceived for intended parents as their own.

Last Friday, the United Nations Committee on Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) reiterated its support to end the harassment and criminalization of surrogates in Cambodia, according to Voice of America.

The report issued by CEDAW recognized growing international criticism of the unregulated practice of surrogacy around the world, which often leads to the exploitation of women who work as surrogates. However, since surrogacy became illegal in Cambodia, over 60 women working as surrogates — the very people put in danger of exploitation — have been arrested and subjected to criminal proceedings. The women were only released according to VOA, under the condition of raising the surrogate children until they are 18.

"The Committee is particularly concerned that such an obligation creates an additional financial and emotional burden on women who are in precarious situations, which led them to act as surrogates in the first place," the report reads, "and that they face discrimination and stigma from their families and communities for having acted as surrogates."

CEDAW called on the Cambodian government to repeal the October 2016 law — particularly the requirement of raising the children they conceived for other intended parents as their own. This punishment is particularly onerous given that many of these women entered surrogacy arrangement against their will, said Chak Sopheap, Executive Director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, speaking to VOA.

"Surrogate women in Cambodia are likely to be at the sharp end of various economic and political hardships that caused them to make the decision to become a surrogate," she told VOA in an email. "We have seen, over the past year, women surrogates raided, charged with human trafficking, and detained, with no transparency from the authorities as to their wellbeing or that of the children they have given birth to."

Read more about this story here.

Gay Dad Family Stories

One Single Gay Dad's Trailblazing Path to Parenthood Via Surrogacy

20 years ago, Gene became the first single gay man to work with Circle Surrogacy in order to become a dad — trailblazing a path for many others since.

This article is part of our family feature series with Circle Surrogacy, a surrogacy agency that has been helping LGBTQ+ singles and couples realize their dream of parenthood for the past 20 years.

"I think I was pretty naïve, I guess," chuckled Gene, one of the first single gay dads to work with Circle Surrogacy over 19 years ago. "I just had made a decision and went out and did it, and wasn't really thinking about how difficult it might be or what other people thought, being first at doing something."

So how did Gene hear about surrogacy as an option for single gay men? Well, it began with Gene flipping through a bar magazine. He recalls seeing an ad about a woman providing a service to connect gay men with lesbians in platonic co-parenting relationships. While he started down that path, working with the founder, Jennifer, he remembers thinking, "What if I meet someone? What if I want to move? It would create all these complications."

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