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 ()
Race

How a White Gay Dad Discusses Racial Issues with his Black Sons

In light of the recent killing of George Floyd by the hands of police in Minneapolis, Joseph Sadusky shares two excerpts from his book that deal directly with issues around raising black sons.

Editor's Note: In light of George Floyd's death, this month, author Joseph Sadusky — who has been sharing excerpts from his book Magic Lessons: Celebratory and Cautionary Tales about Life as a (Single, Gay, Transracially Adoptive) Dad each month —will share two posts that deal directly with issues around raising black sons. This is the first, titled "White," which looks at general questions that come up for a white dad raising black boys. Read previous installments here.

It may be presumptuous for a Caucasian gay man to claim to feel terrified and heartsick at the shooting of Trayvon Martin. But upon hearing the news that day in 2012, this is exactly how I felt.

The horrible truth is that there are many incidents of racial violence toward black males that I could use as starting points for this topic. But the specific case of Trayvon Martin—whose only crime was being a young black male wearing a hoodie, walking in a neighborhood where he had a home—has a particular resonance for me. Whatever the legalities of George Zimmerman using a gun to "stand his ground" if he felt his life was threatened, the simple truth is that he chose—against the direction of law enforcement, whom he contacted for support—to follow an African American male who had every right to be walking those neighborhood streets, however "thug" he might appear.

Keep reading... Show less
Become a Gay Dad

Curious About Covid 19's Impact on Foster Care and Adoption?

Leading industry experts answer questions from queer men about the impact of Covid-19 on the adoption and foster care processes.

Recently, GWK hosted a series of free webinars with leading experts led by industry experts in the fields of adoption and foster care to learn about up-to-date insights on how the coronavirus affects family building. The presentations left lots of room for audience Q&A, to allow participants to get their individual questions answered — there were some common questions raised during each webinar, however, so we've put together a quick video of our experts answering some of the top concerns from queer men interested in pursuing surrogacy.

Our team of experts include:

Have other questions about the impact of the coronavirus on adoption or foster care that you'd like our experts to answer? Be sure to email us at dads@gayswithkids.com.

Surrogacy for Gay Men

Top 5 Questions About Covid-19's Impact On Surrogacy

Leading industry experts answer questions from queer men about the impact of Covid-19 on the surrogacy process.

Recently, GWK hosted a series of free webinars with leading experts led by industry experts in the field of surrogacy to learn about up-to-date insights on how the coronavirus affects family building. The presentations left lots of room for audience Q&A, to allow participants to get their individual questions answered — there were some common questions raised during each webinar, however, so we've put together a quick video of our experts answering some of the top concerns from queer men interested in pursuing surrogacy.

Our team of experts include:

Have other questions about the impact of the coronavirus on surrogacy that you'd like our experts to answer? Be sure to email us at dads@gayswithkids.com.

Here is a breakdown of the Top 5 Questions About Covid 19's Impact On Surrogacy. These are highlights taken from our live webinar series we held featuring: G...

Transracial Families Series

How These Dads Address White Privilege within Their Transracial Family

The "white savior" complex is real, said Andrew and Don, who are raising two Black children.

Editor's Note: This is the first in a series of ongoing posts exploring issues related to transracial families headed by gay, bi and trans men. Interested in being featured as part of the series? Email us at dads@gayswithkids.com

Andrew Kohn, 40, and his husband Donald (Don) Jones, 47, together 13 years, are two white dads raising two Black children in Columbus, Ohio. Do they stick out? Sure. Have they encountered racism? They say they haven't. "I keep waiting for the moment so that I can become my best Julia Sugarbaker," said Andrew. "I think because we're a gay couple with Black kids, we're the other-other and people don't really say things to us. We have never had people touch our kids hair or do something that was inappropriate."

Keep reading... Show less
Children's Books

New LGBTQ-Inclusive Children's Book Asks: What Makes a Family?

A new children's book by Seamus Kirst follows a young girl's journey of emotional discovery after she is asked which of her two dads is her "real dad."

Editor's note: This is a guest post from Seamus Kirst, author of the new LGBTQ-inclusive children's book "Papa, Daddy, Riley."

Throughout my life, I have discovered that reading provides an almost miraculous way of changing the way I think.

There is no medium that better offers insight into the perceptions, feelings and humanity of someone who is different from us. Through reading we become empathetic. Through reading we evolve. I have often emerged from reading a book, and felt like I was changed. In that, even in this digital age, I know I am not alone.

As children, reading shapes how we see the world. The characters, places, and stories we come to love in our books inform us as to what life might offer us as we grow up, and our world begins to expand beyond our own backyards.

Keep reading... Show less
Gay Dad Photo Essays

Interested in Foster Care? These Amazing Dads Have Some Advice

As National Foster Care Month comes to a close, we rounded up some amazing examples of gay men serving as foster care dads, helping provide kids with a bright future.

Every May in the United States, we celebrate National Foster Care Month. With over 437,000 children and youth in foster care, it's our honor to take a look at some of the awesome dads in our community who are opening their hearts and their homes, and providing these kids with a bright future.

Thinking about becoming a foster parent? Check out these resources here, and visit AdoptUSKids.

Meet the Foster Dads!

Keep reading... Show less
Transracial Families Series

This Transracial Family Relies on a 'Support Group' of African American Women

Puerto Rican dads Ferdinand and Manuel are raising a daughter of Jamaican descent — and love to find ways to celebrate their family's diversity

Our second feature in our transracial family series. Read the first one here.

Ferdinand Ortiz, 39, and his husband Manuel Gonzalez, 38, have been together for 7 years. In 2017, they became foster dads when they brought their daughter, Mia Valentina, home from the hospital. She was just three days old at the time. On December 13, 2018, her adoption was finalized.

Mia is of Jamaican and African American heritage, and her dads are both Puerto Rican. When Manuel and Ferdinand began their parenting journey through the foster care system, they received specific training on how to be the parents of a child whose race and culture was different from their own. "We learned that it's important to celebrate our child's culture and surround ourselves with people who can help her be proud of her culture." However, as helpful as this training was, the dads agreed that it would've been beneficial to hear from other transracial families and the type of challenges that they faced.

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