By Hernandez, Greg
The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
For over 120 years families have come to the White House on the Monday after Easter to take part in the annual Easter Egg Roll. The event, put on by the National Park Service, revolves around young children who roll eggs across the White House lawn. It includes a visit from the Easter bunny along with music, storytelling, and food giveaways for the whole family.
It's just this kind of national event--one that focuses on families--that members of the Family Pride Coalition say should include gay and lesbian parents and their children. "Our families are participating in all aspects of traditional American life, and we should have the opportunity to participate in this longtime iconic American event," says Corri Planck, deputy executive director for Family Pride.
News of Family Pride's planned participation on April 17 made headlines as antigay religious leaders criticized the group for planning to "crash" the White House to promote a "radical homosexual agenda." But that did nothing to discourage the more than 200 families that had committed to attend through Family Pride.
As state lawmakers increase their efforts to ban adoption by gays and lesbians, Family Pride is making its presence known as the only national organization exclusively dedicated to securing equality for LGBT parents and their families. Small in size and budget, the 27-year-old nonprofit group has nevertheless become a powerful force on the front lines of the gay rights movement, and this year could be its biggest challenge yet. "In 2003 there were a handful of bills being filed in a handful of states that would attack family recognition and family protection issues for the gay community," says Family Pride executive director Jennifer Chrisler. "In 2006 we are talking about five or six states with constitutional amendment [proposals] and seven or eight states with statutory legislation being filed to prohibit our ability to parent and protect our kids. The magnitude and scope of what we are talking about is so exponentially larger than anything we've ever seen before in terms of attack on our families."
Most family law and legal recognition is created at the state level, so the Washington, D.C.-based coalition has long been fighting for rights on a state-by-state basis. Florida has the country's only blanket ban on adoption by gays, but lawmakers in Ohio, Kentucky, and Georgia--all of which approved constitutional amendments to ban same-sex marriage in 2004--are pressing for laws similar to the one in Florida, while discussions are under way to do the same in a dozen other states.
"I think this really is the year that people are going to come to understand how incredibly vicious their attacks are [as they attempt to] strip away whatever rights and protections we've been able to carve out for ourselves," Chrisler says.
Many gay rights groups faced heavy criticism for failing to defeat a single one of the 13 state ballot measures against same-sex marriage in 2004. But Family Pride has managed to achieve some key victories in recent years against legislation seeking to limit or deny the rights of gays and lesbians. In Texas in 2003, Family Pride got 300 people to sign witness affirmation forms against a bill that would have prevented all single unmarried people from becoming foster parents, and more than 40 testified in committee against the bill. "What Family Pride did in Texas was to put a human face on the debate," says Chris Caldwell, an attorney and past cochair of the organization. "We had real kids, real morns, and gay dads to look the legislators in the eye and to walk the hallways."
Family Pride brought to the hearings LGBT people and straight allies from the districts of each committee member considering the Texas bill. Now the group is employing that strategy in other states through Outspoken Families, a national speakers bureau launched in December with more than 200 participant families. …