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A close-up view of the inauguration
Couple were received ‘naturally’ on Obama’s train
Washington, D.C.--President Barack Obama’s inauguration was the most-watched in the nation’s history, recording the largest spike in internet traffic ever, chalking up almost 38 million television viewers, and with in-person attendance estimates ranging up to two million people--the largest event ever in Washington, D.C.
Lisa Hazirjian and her partner Michelle Kaiser had a closer view than most, though--they were invited along with 15 other families to take part in a whistle-stop train ride to the inauguration, participated in National Day of Service events at RFK Stadium and attended both the inauguration and one of the balls.
Back in Cleveland after a whirlwind four-day weekend, Hazirjian, the organizer of Obama Pride Cleveland, was recovering from the experience of a lifetime.
“Folks have been asking us: How were you and Michelle received?” Hazirjian recounted. “It went without saying that it was the most natural thing in the world to introduce myself and Michelle as my partner.”
“They [the Obamas] have a lot of gay friends,” she continued. “It hadn’t occurred to us until we were in Philadelphia how the other people on the train would react to us. Everyone on the train embraced us as they did everybody else.”
Hazirjian and Kaiser were flown from Cleveland to Philadelphia on January 16, then boarded the train the next morning, with stops in Delaware to pick up Vice President Joe Biden and his family, then Baltimore, then the final destination, Washington D.C.
On the way to the airport, the couple saw the police escort for then-President-elect Obama, who had spoken in suburban Bedford earlier that day.
Their plane’s departure was delayed to create a window between Obama’s departure and the next flight.
The next time they saw the president-elect, he was a bit closer.
“A bunch of us were having some food in the dining car and they came in and sat down with us and just started chatting with us,” Hazirjian recalled of the train trip. “It was funny, at one point Barack Obama started asking different people where they were from, and we said Cleveland.”
“Oh, yeah, I was just in Cleveland,” she recalled him saying.
After she told him of the delay, he joked, “You should have gotten on our plane.”
Michelle Obama was born on January 17, so three days before she became the First Lady, she was celebrating her 45th birthday with Hazirjian, Kaiser and other supporters on the train.
“We had a cake for all of the invited guests,” Hazirjian noted. “They had Michelle come back and we all sang ‘Happy Birthday.’ She started cutting cake for us, and I offered to take over for her because it felt weird having her cut cake for all of us, but she insisted on cutting until everyone had a piece, and then Joe Biden came in and started handing out cake.”
“It felt a bit surreal,” she recalled.
On Sunday, January 18, the couple attended the inaugural concert, which opened with a prayer by openly gay Episcopal Bishop V. Gene Robinson.
“That was the first big event where there were millions of people, and it was so incredible to be on the Mall, close to the Lincoln Memorial, and look down and just see all those people, to be standing in a crowd and just all start singing “American Pie” together, and “This Land Is Your Land” together,” she said. “I think everyone there really did feel that we are all one. The feeling of unity, everyone there so excited about this new presidency, was just very palpable in the air.”
On the national holiday for Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday, everyone took part in the National Day of Service, and the couple met up with a friend who moved to D.C. from Cleveland to assemble “Care packages” for soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“I’ve spent a little bit of time living in D.C.,” Hazirjian said. “Like Cleveland, the city has had its share of racial problems.”
“Just to see people of all races, religions, sexual orientations, coming together in common cause, working together, smiling at each other, was really a moving way to transcend some of the barriers that have historically existed,” she said.
On Tuesday, they were swept up along with much of the nation in the inauguration itself, followed by a late night of celebration at one of the many inaugural balls, before returning to Cleveland the following day.
“It was really unbelievable, and everyone who participated, the 16 families, we’ve got a Google group going, we’re sending emails across the country to each other,” she noted. “We really bonded.”
Those other families hailed from across the country, including Iowa, New Hampshire, and Kansas City, but they “were just really interested in hearing our stories, and in some cases were really outraged when they learned gay people can lose their jobs just for being gay, so it was another really great part of the train trip and going through the whole four-day weekend with those folks, the acceptance and the outpouring of love in every direction,” Hazirjian concluded. “We just became such close friends so quickly.
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