White House invites gay families to Easter event

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

WASHINGTON -- The White House is allocating tickets for the upcoming Easter Egg Roll to gay and lesbian parents as part of the Obama administration's outreach to diverse communities.

Families say the gesture shows the new Democratic administration values them as equal to other families.

White House officials said tickets for Monday's Easter Egg Roll were distributed to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender organizations but did not specify how many or to which ones.

Representatives from Family Equality Council, Human Rights Campaign, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and other groups confirmed they were invited and encouraged to have their members participate.

"The Obama administration actually reached out to us as an organization, and said we want gay families there, and they are an important part of the American family fabric," said Jennifer Chrisler, executive director of the Boston-based Family Equality Council, which is helping spearhead the effort to organize families to attend.

Chrisler said Tuesday she expects more than 100 gay and lesbian-headed families to take part in the egg roll.

Overall, officials are gearing up for a bigger turnout than ever before, with families arriving from 45 states and the District of Columbia, said Semonti Mustaphi, deputy press secretary to Mrs. Obama. The majority of egg roll tickets were offered to the public online.

Alan Bernstein, a single gay father, is flying to Washington from West Hollywood, Calif., with his 5-year-old son Issac to participate. His 3-year-old twin daughters will stay with their grandparents. It will be Bernstein and his son's first time at the egg roll.

"I don't think to a 5-year-old it's that extraordinary, but to me it is," said the 43-year-old planning commissioner, calling the invitation an honor.

It's not the first time gay and lesbian-headed families will participate.

In 2006 during the Bush administration, more than 100 gay families attended the egg roll in part to make the statement that they should be welcome. Some conservatives accused gays and lesbians of trying to "crash" the event and turn it into forum for ideological politicking.

This year already feels different, said Colleen Gillespie of Brooklyn, who helped spark the 2006 effort.

"We feel so welcomed and embraced, and that in a very real way, I think we can just go as a family and enjoy it," said the 42-year-old assistant professor at New York University's school of medicine, who is attending with her wife and their daughters, Ella and Zelda. "We don't have to fight for our right to exist and be treated fairly."

Leah McElrath Renna, managing partner at a D.C. communications firm, agreed. She attended the event in 2006 and 2007 with her partner Cathy McElrath Renna and their now 3-year-old daughter, Rosemary.

"Under Bush, it felt a bit like we were crashing our own party. But this year it feels like we're equally honored guests," Leah McElrath Renna, 44, said. "It's more celebratory."

Rosemary is particularly excited to see the Easter Bunny again and already has planned her outfit: A yellow polka-dotted dress and a new straw hat with a pink band.

"I'm looking forward to seeing the joy on my daughter's face when she sees the Easter Bunny," she said. "And seeing the White House in the background and knowing that America and the future that she lives in will be a more perfect place than it is now."

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