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Though the rain slowed at times, it refused to go away, making for a soggy time at the annual White House Easter Egg Roll. But rain be damned, it didn’t keep away the rainbows. In this case, the rainbows were the leis sported by the hundred-or-so gay — or simply allied — families coming out on Monday, April 17, as part of an effort organized by Family Pride Coalition to raise awareness of GLBT-parented households.
It was a story that caught the media’s attention, serving as the latest point of debate in the so-called ”culture wars.” The anti-gay Americans for Truth, for example, issued a statement Monday before the first rainbow family had even set foot on the South Lawn of the White House, quoting the group’s president, Peter LaBarbera: ”There are some bad eggs on the White House lawn today and they should be marked ‘SSA’ for Selfish Sexual Agendas. Shame on these adults for exploiting an event designed solely to bring joy to young children.”
Certainly the event brought joy to Tom and Tim, the twin boys of Family Pride Executive Director Jennifer Chrisler and her partner, Cheryl Jacques, former head of the Human Rights Campaign. ”Tim, come on, we’re going to go see the Easter Bunny,” Chrisler instructed one of her young tots, as they prepared to leave the shelter of the covered porch of the Ellipse Visitor Pavilion at the southwest corner of 15th and E streets NW, and head out to one of the tents where ticketed egg-rollers awaited their step-off time. Tim responded single-mindedly with that look of glee unique to toddlers. ”Easter Bunny! Easter Bunny! Easter Bunny!” he squealed.
This small pavilion, with its terribly overpriced White House-themed knickknacks, where several hours earlier hundreds waited in line overnight for their egg-roll tickets, did double duty in the rain. Not only did it offer the convenience of a public restroom, but the covered porch made for an impromptu pressroom. Radio, TV and print were all there, taking turns interviewing a sample of these GLBT families that had come out to strike a blow for visibility, offering evidence that their families are as American as the rest, that their kids are as crazy for Peeps and jelly beans as anyone’s.
Another group had come to strike the counterpunch. Six men manned their posts directly across from the White House gate, jeering at those inside. Yet despite all the publicity, this counterdemonstration by the “Official Street Preachers” looked more like a sideshow, with an air of desperation.
”We all know the Easter Bunny doesn’t exist! Tell your children about the truth in the Bible,” shouted one of the six though his bullhorn — presumably the same bullhorn advertised on their Web site, the ThunderPower 1000, with ”45 watts of thundering power!” And with their small showing, they could use all the amplification they could get.
”They are pushing their agenda to be accepted as families! The definition of ‘family’ is man, woman and child — period!” they yelled.
Over the course of the morning, more than one tourist stood behind the backs of the protesters to take advantage of the photo opportunity. The day’s logistics made it easy to ignore the small bunch, with the trail from corralling tent to the White House lawn passing nowhere near them. From the lawn, they were easily ignored and out of earshot, for the most part, said Terrance Heath of Chevy Chase, enjoying the event with his partner, Rick Imirowicz, and their 3-year-old son, Parker.
”They had the sign that said ‘homo-sex is a national security risk,”’ Heath joked, referring to one of the more peculiar of the group’s messages. ”But they were on that side of the gate — we were inside.”
In actuality, there may have been more vegans on hand protesting the use of eggs, than homophobes. The prevailing mood seemed to be that peculiar camaraderie shared by parents who have happily learned to put the needs of children above their own. John and Sherry Pierce of Solomons, Md., shared the shelter of the porch, unaware of any controversy. With the situation explained, the Solomons took another look toward the GLBT families at the far end of the porch and reacted with apparent indifference.
”This is all for the children,” said John Pierce, there with his daughter and niece, both 3. ”If they’re here for a political thing, this is not the place. If it’s for the children, good for them. Sexual preference doesn’t bother me.” With a shrug and smile, Sherry affirmed her husband’s sentiment.
Aside from the rain, the only other points of frustration seemed to be that the president and first lady appeared only during a private opening ceremony period held for some volunteer groups and Gulf states children affected by last season’s hurricanes, and that the press trailing the Family Pride families were initially denied entrance to the South Lawn.
All in all, however, it seems the proverbial good time was had by all. After the event, at a gathering held at the Foundry United Methodist Church at 16th and P streets NW, Chrisler and Jacques praised the reactions of others at the White House, and made no bones about the ticket peculiarity that blocked the group out of the private morning ceremonies.
”We wanted to participate. [When] wouldn’t matter to us,” said Chrisler of missing the morning’s one-on-one with the first family. ”We had a great time.”
Added Jacques: ”We got a wonderful reception from other families — non-gay families. And the volunteers couldn’t have been more helpful. The kids had a great time.”
Jacques offered a parting thought to those critics who charge that this simple act of attending en masse, in rainbow leis, is an unwelcome politicization of the event.
Noting, like many others, that Monday’s event was akin to first lady Mamie Eisenhower opening the egg roll to black children for the first time in 1954, as well as Laura Bush’s pre-event statement affirming that everyone was welcome, Jacques concluded, ”The reality is, this country is having this conversation. When you say ‘politicize,’ I would say ‘educate’ and ‘enlighten.’ At minimum, a conversation was had in the White House, possibly with the president, certainly with the first lady.”