Several weeks ago, Amber and Adam Briggle got one of those “save the date” invites. The staff at the Human Rights Campaign, a national nonprofit advocacy group, was a little vague, she said.
The group was planning an event that may or may not happen at the White House in Washington. Meanwhile, the Briggles needed to submit information for background checks in case everything came together.
The group recently named the Briggles to its Parents for Transgender Equality Council. The Briggles have become increasingly outspoken advocates for their son, who came out as transgender about two years ago.
The family made national headlines in September after Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and his wife accepted an invitation to share a home-cooked meal at the Briggle house.
Amber Briggle pressed the group’s staff for a little more information. School would still be in session for the kids and for her husband, who is a professor at the University of North Texas. She had her own business to run, she said.
The advocacy group promised it would give the family at least a week’s notice.
Week before last, Friday came and went without a call. Amber Briggle figured the event at the White House, whatever it was, didn’t come together after all.
Thursday morning, the phone rang. It was the press secretary for the Human Rights Campaign. She apologized for the short notice, but the event was on and could the Briggles fly out the next day, Friday morning?
The entire Briggle family, Adam, Amber, their 8-year-old son MG and their 4-year-old daughter Lulu were all invited to the White House to watch Rogue One: A Star Wars Story on Friday afternoon.
Thursday became a whirlwind as the couple prepared for the trip, canceling weekend plans and finding a pet sitter. Adam Briggle took his son with him to get haircuts.
Amber Briggle went shopping so the children would have something to wear.
MG’s dresser drawers are full of T-shirts and basketball shorts. He needed a shirt and tie. Amber Briggle also picked up a sparkling red holiday dress for Lulu.
By Friday morning, they were on a plane to Washington, D.C. The movie screening was scheduled for Friday afternoon.
“There was a lot of hurry up and wait,” Amber Briggle said.
The family arrived at the East Wing of the White House early in the afternoon. They knew there was a delay, but they weren’t sure why. (Earlier in the afternoon, President Obama held his year-end press conference. Not only did the press conference go long, but also there was a brief delay when someone in the press chambers became ill and collapsed.)
Amber Briggle said she wasn’t able to meet all the other families who had been invited to the movie screening. She estimated it was about 40 people. She recognized a few, including another family from the parent council. She knew another family was involved in anti-bullying campaigns, an initiative of first lady Michelle Obama.
They were waiting in the same room where the president often meets foreign visitors, Adam Briggle said.
“I heard his voice before I saw him, and there he was,” Adam Briggle said. “I never thought I’d have a chance to be in the same room with him.”
Amber Briggle said her eyes welled up when she saw the first lady.
The president spoke briefly to welcome them and then he motioned toward the helicopter that was waiting on the White House lawn.
“He said, ‘That’s my ride’ and everyone laughed,” Adam Briggle said.
No one was able to talk with the president or first lady individually, but they stood with the group for a photo before leaving.
Then the families went to the private movie theater inside the White House, where Christmas cookies and popcorn were waiting.
The adults began to take their seats, but the kids ran up front to sit on the floor, Amber Briggle said.
At first, the director, producer and one of the writers came out to introduce the movie. They told the small crowd they were happy to see such a diverse audience, given the theme of the movie.
The Star Wars franchise has always been “against hate,” as the movie’s writers Chris Weitz and Gary Whitta recently wrote on Twitter. But Rogue One has become a lightning rod, with critics calling on people to boycott the movie for being too political.
The big moment for the children came when several actors came out to watch the movie with the families.
“I liked when we saw the actors, including Luke Skywalker [Mark Hamill], from the Star Wars movie,” MG said.
Both MG and Lulu said they will never forget meeting Darth Vader or the stormtroopers.
The movie started, but after a while became a little dark and foreboding for 4-year-old Lulu.
She was able to watch about half of it before turning to her mother to say she was both scared and bored, Amber Briggle said.
Briggle took that as her cue to do what she wanted to do anyway: take Lulu back out into the East Wing and look at the decorations.
“I mean, I can watch a movie anytime. When’s the next time I’ll be in the White House like this?” she said.
Because the White House is also a museum, large portions of the building are open to the public. Signs even encourage visitors to tag their photos #whholiday this time of year so more people can find them on social media.
The only time the families couldn’t take pictures was when they were meeting the president and first lady, Adam Briggle said.
The couple says while they’ll never forget the experience, they aren’t sure what their children will remember since both are very young. But they do know the kids will remember they had a great time.
The Briggle family gave the first family a thank-you note through an aide, Adam Briggle said.
Meanwhile, they will watch their email for a copy of the group photo that was taken by a White House staff photographer, Amber Briggle said.
MG knows to watch for the photo, too.
He liked the joke one of the grown-ups told as he met the president, and then most powerful person on Earth.
Wait, isn’t that the president? Nope.
The first lady? Nope.
“Darth Vader,” MG laughed.
PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881 and via Twitter at @phwolfeDRC.