This week, my family had the honor of attending the annual White House Easter Egg Roll in Washington, D.C. While we were honored to be invited to such an amazing and diversely attended event, we also felt it was very important to use this as a platform to bring much needed attention to an executive order that is floating around the White House waiting to be signed by President Obama. We worked with GetEQUAL and Freedom To Work on messaging and other logistics. A press release went out Friday morning spelling out the message we wanted to push, that the LGBT community can’t wait for job protections, and the time is now for President Obama to sign this executive order barring workplace discrimination against LGBT people by companies contracting with the federal government (more details on the order can be found here). Several media outlets quickly picked up the story running headlines indicating that my partner Les and I would be at the Easter Egg Roll following the President around in order to confront him face to face. What a firestorm of criticism that caused! It was interesting to watch how quickly it spread throughout the blogosphere throughout the day. Realistically, we did not expect to have any access to the President, especially considering this is an event with 30,000 plus people in attendance throughout the day. I was prepared, in the highly unlikely event that I did have a few seconds to shake his hand, with just how I would phrase my messaging, but to be clear, I did not expect to even see him, much less have any kind of access. My whole reason for wanting to do this was to put pressure on the President via a media blitz about the need for this order to be signed. As far as I’m concerned, the media hype did just that, and then some. We saw a lot of media coverage, both LGBT and mainstream, about this order. The order has been around for a long time, and was actually a campaign promise by then candidate Obama in March of 2008.
So my family took advantage of a political event (the Easter Egg Roll is, as any event at the White House is, a political event) focused on families, to help open up dialogue about this executive order and the impact it could have on thousands and thousands of families. It is not perfect, and it only covers federal contractors, but until Congress changes hands, it is an important and necessary step. We’ve received a lot of criticism about choosing to use this event for a political message. As I’ve said before, this is a political event from the start. If it weren’t a political event, then for years the White House would not be in the habit of giving out tickets to organizations as either a thank you, or to make them “go away”. That politicizes it, as does the fact that it takes place at the White House. What we did was take advantage of important press time to bring about awareness to this issue. When we actually went to the South Lawn for the Egg Roll, we did have our “We Can’t Wait” shirts on, and discussed the issue with some other people, but were primarily focused on allowing our daughter to have a blast watching two of her favorite musicians perform!
Was it inappropriate to do what we did? Not at all! What better time than a family event to bring up the fact that with the stroke of a pen, President Obama could protect thousands of LGBT families and workers from discrimination. We were invited, we didn’t “crash” the event, nor did we do anything that was in any way disruptive to the festivities or the White House. What we accomplished was a lot. Later that day, at the White House press conference, an NBC reporter grilled the Press Secretary about our visit and message, and asked several questions about the executive order. This was the first time mainstream media has questioned the Obama Administration about this executive order, so for me, that was a huge win!
Are we the “self-iportant” media whores many have accused us of being? Far from it. Sure, we got a lot of press, and even had a live interview on MSNBC, but honestly, I’m never comfortable in front of cameras. I’ll do this as long as I have to for our equality, but to be clear, I don’t do it to have attention directed at me. My intent is to direct attention to the issue at hand, not myself.
So what’s next? Pressure needs to be kept on the President to get this order signed. He has signed at least 7 executive orders in the past 6 months, so it’s not like we’re asking him to step above and beyond his duty as President. We can all play a part in this. You can email, write, or call the White House asking that this order be signed as quickly as possible, we simply can’t wait for job protections! Beyond that, we should be looking at our community and having discussions with one another about why so many LGBT people and our allies think it is still acceptable to sit back and wait for it to be politically convenient, or for public opinion to be in the “right place” for us to ask for, or demand our rights! I believe it is far from acceptable to continue to think and act this way. We may also want to ask ourselves how it is that we can see support for this issue on conservative christian sites, but on certain LGBT blogs the focus is almost completely about the color of someone’s hair, which is a sad and petty commentary.