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On a Gray Day, Same-Sex Couples Make Colorful Point at Egg Roll

Gay and lesbian parents with rainbow-colored leis join the festivities to show that they are `part of the American fabric,' says one proud mom.

April 18, 2006|James Gerstenzang | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — In a steady rain on a chilly Monday, some 100 lesbian and gay couples and their children participated in the traditional Easter egg roll on the White House lawn, their presence intended to demonstrate that their values are those of the traditional American family.

"It really is about showing the country that gay and lesbian families are part of the American fabric and that we participate in American traditions," said Jennifer Chrisler, executive director of the Family Pride Coalition, which advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender parents and their families.

The families of gay and lesbian parents joined thousands of other families on the South Lawn of the White House, where egg-rolling races, a "moon bounce" play area and a costumed Easter bunny awaited them.

"The Easter egg roll is a very happy tradition at the White House that dates back to 1878," White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said. "It is a time for families. And we welcome all families and their children who want to come and participate."

Colleen Gillespie, an assistant research professor at New York University's Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, was one of the originators of the group visit. She said the idea arose after Education Secretary Margaret Spellings last year criticized an episode of the PBS children's program "Postcards From Buster" because it featured lesbians raising children. PBS declined to distribute the episode.

Gillespie said Monday that the dispute over the episode left her and her partner, Alisa Surkis, feeling vulnerable, "and we wanted to fight back."

That feeling led them to want to demonstrate "the diversity of our families" and to show that they face the same challenges -- and take part in the same traditions -- as others.

Like others, the gay and lesbian parents had waited overnight in a line to pick up time-specific tickets Saturday morning.

Although skies began to clear Monday afternoon, a drenching rain was falling just before noon when the group made its way to the White House grounds.

Many in the group wore leis made of yellow, purple, red, green, blue and orange silk and plastic flowers. The leis added a touch of color, meant to symbolize diversity, to an otherwise gray day.

Gillespie and Surkis' daughter, Ella, 3, set out with a straw bonnet, decorated with a pink and yellow flower, beneath the hood of her red rain slicker.

Chrisler said her 4-year-old twins, Tim and Tom, had their own motivation for attending. They were interested in meeting the Easter bunny because, looking ahead to another holiday, they figured he could "put in a good word with Santa Claus," she said.

Just beyond the White House grounds, six men objected to the participation by the gay and lesbian parents, displaying several protest signs. One read: "Homo-Sex is a threat to national security."

About three hours earlier, before the gay and lesbian parents arrived, First Lady Laura Bush welcomed the first groups of visitors and thanked them for "bringing so much joy to the White House grounds."

President Bush blew a whistle to start an egg-rolling race.

The Easter Monday tradition on the lawn of the executive mansion began when Rutherford B. Hayes was president. It has grown into a major White House event, with games and music, face-painting, visits by celebrities and story-telling.

The first lady's office said that 16,000 tickets were distributed for the program. It said the American Egg Board provided about 7,200 eggs to be rolled, 2,800 dyed eggs for an egg hunt, and 4,000 that were boiled and available for children to dye.

That brought a protest from the advocacy group Friends of Animals, which drew attention to the treatment of chickens raised to produce eggs and advocated the use of artificial eggs for spring celebrations.

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