- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 14, 2009

What if a vocal political action group held a press conference and no one cared?

That's exactly what happened just before Monday's Easter Egg Roll on the White House South Lawn, when lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender families called an “availability” on the Ellipse and just one lonely reporter showed up.

“Hey, there you are,” said Jennifer Chrisler, executive director of the Boston-based Family Equality Council, standing on an empty sidewalk by the Ellipse.

Unlike in 2006, when dozens of journalists scribbled down every word as “LGTB” family advocates demanded equality from the Bush administration, just one scribe made himself available for Monday's availability.

The real-life scene Monday was reminiscent of a joke news article by the satiric Web site “The Onion,” way back in April 2001. In the mock story, gays hold a parade and chant “We're here, we're queer, get used to it!”

The piece included a fake quote from one “Timothy Orosco, 51, a local Walgreens manager,” who said simply: “All I can say is, I was used to it.”

So, too, are some parents of the “straight” families attending the annual White House children's event Monday.

“No, I don't think it's a big deal that they're here,” said Kim Smith of the District, holding the hand of her little daughter. “I don't think that's a big issue.”

“Aren't we really over that?” said one man who wouldn't give his name. “There are a lot of serious problems out there, so I think people are moving on.”

The issue exploded in President Bush's face three years ago. Although LGTB families slept overnight on the Ellipse to get prime-time tickets to the event, most drew slots for noon - three hours after the president milled through the crowd, kissed babies and chatted with parents and children at the egg-roll races.

The White House snubbing gave LGTB groups a major platform and drew heavy press coverage. Some activists were outspokenly outraged, making the evening news and headlines the next morning.

Looking back, Cathy Renna, a longtime gay activist, said the Bush administration appeared fearful of their attendance. “I guess they thought we were going to throw blood-filled eggs or something,” she said with a laugh. “And then they saw us, and we were just like other moms with their kids having fun.”

But this year, the Obama White House allotted tickets for the event to gay and lesbian parents as part of the administration's effort to reach out to diverse communities. What's more, the White House Office of Public Liaison called the Family Equality Council to advise them on how to get even more tickets on the White House Web site.

“President Obama obviously includes us when he thinks of diverse families,” Miss Chrisler said.

Following the tradition of the past several years, same-sex parents wore rainbow-colored leis as they walked around the South Lawn, their children moving from the egg-roll station to face-painting, story-time and jump-roping.

The leis made them instantly identifiable, immediately drawing attention to their sexual orientation.

Miss Chrisler, trying to keep track of her two rambunctious red-headed 7-year-olds, Tim and Tom, was just fine with that.

“The more we can introduce ourselves to the American public, the more they can see that we participate in America's traditions, the more that they understand we are worried about the same things that they're worried about, the more they'll come to know that we have a lot in common. They'll see that treating us differently doesn't really help, it actually hurts our families,” she said.

But no one treated the LGTB families differently and, in fact, they appeared to be the only ones singling themselves out. Asked about the disconnect, Miss Chrisler said: “What we're doing is showing that we're being included. These are opportunities to show ourselves in a more public way.”

Recent headlines are rife with advances for the LGTB community. A week ago, gays and lesbians gained another victory when Vermont joined Connecticut, Massachusetts and Iowa in giving gay couples the right to marry. The D.C. Council voted to recognize gay marriages performed in other states.

In the same year Americans elected their first black president, the voters of tiny Silverton, Ore., also elected the country's first transgender mayor, Stu Rasmussen.

Miss Chrisler said the controversy has certainly faded from years past.

“Everyone's being accepting and moving on, and I think that's a good thing. It's good for my kids, it's good for my family, it's good for all of us,” she said. “And it would be great to be back here next year and not have any coverage at all.”

• Send e-mail to Joseph Curl.

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