One of the great American Easter traditions, along with lying to children about bunnies and discounted candy on Monday, is the White House’s Easter Egg Roll. Allegedly, the event began in 1814 with First Lady Dolley Madison, and pretty much ever since it’s been a way for the White House to connect with the common people of America while at the same time espousing the current administration’s values. For instance, this year’s Easter Egg Roll “theme” is “Let’s Go, Let’s Play, Let’s Move,” which echoes Michelle Obama’s longtime campaign for healthy eating and exercise choices. Easter Egg Rolls have also marked social progress; the event was opened to black children for the first time during the Eisenhower administration, and in 2009, the Obamas opened the event to same-sex families.
This isn’t the first time gay families have attended the Easter Egg Roll, however. In 2006, during the Bush administration, gay families attended the Easter Egg Roll as well — but as an “organized presence,” in protest of their treatment by the President and his supporters. Although they were some of the first people in line, the gay families who attended were given entry times for midday, well after the Bush family had left. Six protesters showed up to counter-protest the gay families’ statement with messages like “I am fed up with the homosexual agenda. It makes me want to vomit. And it makes God want to vomit.”
The Obama’s approach to dealing with same-sex families for the Easter Egg Roll — explicitly inviting them — is a hallmark of how different the Obama administration is from the one before it. The fact that the administration considers it important to differentiate itself in this way is another hallmark — they actively want to be perceived as pro-equality, and be associated with same-sex families, not associated with the movement against them. Which is why one same-sex couple, Jarrod Scarbrough and Les Sewell, are taking this opportunity to ask Obama to step up and back same-sex families even more fully. They’ll be attending the Egg Roll today with their eight-year-old daughter, and with the mission of asking Obama to sign an executive order that would ban federal contractors from discriminating against employees on the basis of sexual orientation. Scarbrough works for a federal contractor, and his family would have a lot more security if he knew that whatever risks his job security suffered, sexual orientation wasn’t one of them. Recent polls show that 73% of Americans would support passing an executive order like this.
Activists have been pushing for a workplace protection executive order for months now, arguing that it falls into a long tradition of presidents using executive power to give employees rights that the normal legislative process is too slow to provide. Scarbrough and Sewell’s move today also falls into a long tradition of the White House Easter Egg Roll, ostensibly an opportunity for children to play on the White House lawn and for the President and First Lady to have some photos taken with their kids, serving as a kind of milestone for social progress and our fits and starts towards equality in America. It’s more likely that Scarbrough, Sewell and their daughter will head home with a commemorative White House keepsake egg than an executive order, but if the Obamas have invited us and our families to spend time with them — and they have — then they’re also going to hear about what we need from them to keep our families safe and secure.