Change the World

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?

Show Comments ()
Change the World

Gay Dads Featured in Enfamil Commercial

A new ad for Enfamil showcases two gay men talking about their daughter.

The best kind of inclusion is when you're not singled out but instead included right along with everyone else. This kind inclusion inspires others to pursue their own dreams and desires, just like any one else. As part of our popular culture, we know that brands are uniquely suited to inspire us in this way.

Keep reading... Show less
Gay Dad Life

Gay Muslim Single Dad Writes Op Ed on His Path to Self Acceptance

Maivon Wahid writes about the challenges of reconciling three separate, but equally important, identities in an opinion piece for Gay Star News

Maivon Wahid, a gay Muslim single dad living in Fiji, wrote an opinion piece for Gay Star News about the challenges he's faced on his road to self acceptance.

"I feel pressure on how I am supposed to behave and how I am perceived," he wrote oh how these competing identities play out for him, day to day.

Maivon described himself as an "odd" kid, who never quite fit in--something he still relates to today as an adult. "When I enter the masjid (mosque), I am always judged and questioned," he wrote. "Sometimes it's curiosity, but sometimes it's borderline bullying." He said he found a way to be both gay and Muslim, three years ago, when he met an openly gay Imam at a conference in Australia. "It was through him I was able to first appreciate who I was, then love who I had become and celebrate it."

Being gay in Fiji, he says also makes him feel the need to hide certain parts of himself. "In Fiji, I find the need to hide so many aspects of my authentic being," he wrote.

He also wrote of complications familiar to many single gay men who became dads from previous straight relationships. He writes: "As a single parent to the most beautiful son – I was married to my ex-wife for nine years – learning to become and celebrate the person you want to be is about more than just me; it's a legacy I want to leave for him and the next generation. Although it's hard to meet like-minded people (my dating life is non-existent!), in being myself, I believe I can show others it's OK to be you, and to love whoever you want to love."

Ultimately, despite the challenges he's faced, Maivon says he has found a way to reconcile these three identities into one. "Whether you're gay, Muslim or a single parent – or all three – there is a place and space for everyone," he wrote. "I have found my place in Islam, and am comfortable being the best version of gay I can be. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise."

Read the whole article here.


Change the World

Gay Dad and Christian Mom Have a Come to Jesus Moment on 'Wife Swap'

A Christian mom learns a thing or two about "judge not lest ye be judged" on the latest episode of "Wife Swap"

Two men, Terrell and Jarius Joseph, were recently the first gay dads to be featured on the show "Wife Swap," where they swapped spouses with Nina and Matt, a religious, Christian couple. But the drama doesn't unfold in the same way as some previous episodes featuring religious mothers (see everyone's favorite "Crazy Christian Lady") because (plot twist!) the gay dads are religious, too.

At one point, Nina asks Jarius to lead the family in a prayer before dinner, because she felt it was important to show him "what the true love of God is." She is surprised, then, when Jarius quite naturally launches into a prayer.

Later in the episode, Nina says she wants to lead Jarius in a "devotional" about judgment. "Jesus knew that this would be a battle for us, so he was very stern in warning us in Matthew 7: 1-5," she say. "Do not judge or you too will be judged."

Jarius quickly points out that most Christian churches are unaccepting of LGBTQ members. "You say 'Don't judge people,'" Jarius says. "But you are."

"Now that I've talked with Jarius, I feel like I jumped to conclusions a bit," Nina tells the camera later on in the "I'm not a judgey person but I actually judged the situation and I don't like the way it makes me feel."

Watch the moment play out in full here:

'Do You Feel Like Being Gay is a Sin?' | Wife Swap Official Highlight www.youtube.com

Gay Dad Life

Cooking with Kids: An Interview with David Burtka

David Burtka sits down with us to talk about his new book "Life is a Party."

When you're a young couple it's easy to order in or dine out on a daily basis, but when the kids come along, spending time in the kitchen to prepare nutritious and healthy meals for them can become a problem for some dads. We turned to gay dad and celebrity chef David Burtka who just published his debut recipe book Life is a Party, to get some advice, inspiration, and support as we take our baby steps in the kitchen.

Keep reading... Show less
Politics

Daughter of Married Gay Couple Who Used Surrogacy Abroad Isn't Citizen, Says U.S. State Department

A decades-old law can be used to discriminate against gay couples who use surrogacy abroad.

James Derek Mize and his husband Jonathan Gregg are both American citizens, but their daughter, born via a surrogate, may not be, at least according to the U.S. State Department.

The New York Times took an in-depth look at this case in a piece that ran in the paper yesterday. While James was born and raised in the U.S, his husband Jonathan was originally born in Britain. That may be enough, according to the State Department, to deny their daughter citizenship.

"We're both Americans; we're married," James told the New York Times. "We just found it really hard to believe that we could have a child that wouldn't be able to be in our country."

According to decades-old immigration law, a child born abroad must have a biological connection to a parent that is a U.S. citizen in order to be eligible to receive citizenship upon birth. Children born via surrogacy are determined to be "out of wedlock," according to the Times report," which then requires a more onerous process to qualify for citizenship, such as demonstrating that a biological parent is not only an American citizen, but has spent at least five years in the country.

The intent of the law, which dates back to the 1950s, was to prevent people from claiming, falsely, that they are the children of U.S. parents. But LGBTQ advocates argue this archaic policy is being used intentionally to discriminates against same-sex couples, who often have to rely on donors, IVF and surrogacy in order to have biologically children, and are thus held to a higher standard.

"This is where our life is. This is where our jobs are," James told the Times. "Our daughter can't be here, but she has no one else to care for her."

Read the whole story here.


Popular

Couple That Met at the Gym Now Spotting Each Other Through Fatherhood

How two real New-Yorkers became two soft-hearted dads

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.

Byron and Matthew Slosar, both 41, met ten years ago at one of New York City's Equinox gyms. "I asked him for a spot on the bench press," smiled Byron. The couple were married September 22, 2012.

Surrogacy was always the way Byron and Matthew wanted to become parents. They chose to wait and become dads later in life, until they had established careers and the financial means to pursue their chosen path.

They signed with Circle Surrogacy after interviewing a few agencies. "We immediately connected with their entire staff, particularly Anne Watson who lovingly dealt with my healthy neuroses on the daily for 1.5 years," said Byron. "They definitely personalized the service and helped us understand all 2,000 moving parts." The dads-to-be were also very impressed with how much emotional support they received from Circle.

Keep reading... Show less
Gay Dad Family Stories

Adopting an Older Child Through Foster Care Was the Best Path for These Dads

After learning more about older-child adoption through You Gotta Believe, Mark and Andrew decided it was the best way for them to form their family.

"Hey! I got adopted today! These are my dads, Mark and Andrew!"

Jeremy was 16 years old when he found out his new dads wanted to adopt him.

In late August 2017, husbands Mark and Andrew Mihopulos, 34 and 36 respectively, remember driving out to the east end of Long Island. They knew at the very same moment they were driving, social workers were letting Jeremy know they wanted to adopt him. "We expected Jeremy to be hesitant or feel mixed emotions," shared Mark. "We didn't know how he would feel about having two dads and about having white parents and family, as he is a black young man."

Keep reading... Show less

Fatherhood, the gay way

Get the latest from Gays With Kids delivered to your inbox!

Follow Gays With Kids

Powered by RebelMouse