By Petula Dvorak
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 16, 2006
In their sweat shirts and with their heavy-duty camping gear, Frank Finamore and Peter Velasco were as tired as many of the other unshaven dads on the Ellipse yesterday morning, doting fathers who spent the night in a long line just to score tickets to the White House Easter Egg Roll.
Only Finamore and Velasco wore rainbow leis, and the ticket they were after was for their 5-year-old son. They are gay, and like about a hundred other parents who gathered near the White House in a tent city that mushroomed on the Ellipse Friday night, they ignored the gay-parenting instincts that in years past told them not to bother coming to mainstream events like this one.
The group mobilization will send scores of gay and lesbian parents to the South Lawn for the White House ritual tomorrow morning. Yesterday, wearing their colorful leis and glowing bracelets, they encouraged an audience of thousands to evaluate them as families against the backdrop of a nationwide debate on gay marriage.
"We're hoping other people will see we're just normal parents, like everyone else," said Finamore, 39. "And we're boring, actually," added Velasco, 35.
But the gathering inspired anything but ennui. The overnight wait is a Washington tradition that looks like a giant slumber party cradled between the White House and the Washington Monument. It's military dads playing cards under a tent and suburban moms dishing all night about Brad Pitt's hair.
This year, however, they all had something more to talk about: the large group of gays and lesbians that was impossible to miss and formed a new patchwork for the 128-year-old springtime rite. At times, the egg roll regulars were interrupted by gay and lesbian parents offering rainbow-sprinkled doughnuts.
"As long as they keep it about the families, it's okay that they're here, I don't have a problem with it," said Sean Harrell, 36, who sat all night in line with his military buddies to get tickets for his 12- and 6-year-old children. "I just hope they don't politicize it. This is not the place for that."
Until a movement began months ago to bring gay and lesbian parents to the Easter fest this year, it would never have occurred to many of them to bring their kids to a White House event, they said.
But they were emboldened by the actions of Colleen Gillespie, a New York University professor who went last year to get tickets for her partner and their daughter. After a night spent talking with other parents in line, she thought it would be the perfect setting for people to see what gay parents look like.
So she worked with some gay rights groups to launch an Internet campaign encouraging gay and lesbian parents to take part. The network organized rides, home stays and even volunteers to stand in line for those who couldn't make it Friday night.
The first-timers joined a line of Eastertide veterans who know to bring sleeping bags, DVD players, poker chips, Tostitos and salsa, and head lamps for reading. Their presence in the snaking line of domed tents that sprouted along the Ellipse beginning Friday morning was not subtle. They debated whether to wear T-shirts with slogans, but decided against it. They settled on the leis and bracelets, something to let people know they were not invisible, yet didn't make a decisive statement.
Even that may have been too much for some.
"As long as that's all they do, the leis, that's okay," said Lisa Padres, 34, who lives near Chantilly. "I just wish they would just go dressed like everyone else and not stick out. That would be better."
Padres waited in line with two friends all night, the trio wearing fuzzy bunny ears. They read Vogue and played Texas Hold 'Em.
Padres said she worried that the gay and lesbian presence might force her to explain homosexuality to her 4-year-old son, should he ask why the group was wearing rainbow leis. "To me, once they identify themselves as a group, that's a protest," she said.
For Barb Wrigley, the time in line for tickets was hardly a protest. It was a liberation. She spent a decade as a lesbian mother in Alexandria, never summoning the gumption to come to the event when her two children, now 14 and 16, were young enough to participate.
"It was just another thing I didn't think I could do as a lesbian mom. I wouldn't have felt welcome. Or, you know, comfortable," said Wrigley, 51.
She stood in line to get five tickets for other gay parents who couldn't spend the night at the Ellipse but want to take part in the egg roll.
Many of the gay parents made plans to bail out if they were met by protesters. Some of the people in line whispered as they walked by and pointed, but little else happened.
One woman in a lawn chair shouted, "I'm glad you made it" to a group of folks in rainbow leis, then nudged the friend sitting next to her. "Those are the gays," she explained.
Some of the newcomers enjoyed the attention.
"This is an opportunity for people to see that gay people have long-term relationships and families, like everyone else," said Daniel Gri of Oakton. He waited in line with his partner, James Abbott.