On Soggy Day, a Cluster of Rainbows

Jemma Gonzales, 4, of Long Beach, Calif., laughs with mother Maureen as her other mother, Lisa Gonzales, watches at the White House Easter Egg Roll.
Jemma Gonzales, 4, of Long Beach, Calif., laughs with mother Maureen as her other mother, Lisa Gonzales, watches at the White House Easter Egg Roll. (Photos By Jahi Chikwendiu -- The Washington Post)
By Petula Dvorak
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 18, 2006

They waited in line overnight Friday, then slogged their eight highly polished shoes through muddy grass yesterday, all to roll some Easter eggs on the White House lawn.

But for the Gri-Mott family of Oakton, every mucky, cranky minute was worth it. In addition to their four perfectly pressed pairs of pants, four starched collars, four ties and those shoes, the quartet of two fathers and two sons wore rainbow-colored leis. And Daniel Gri and James Mott believe that by doing that, they helped change America a little bit.

Gri and Mott were two of about 200 gay and lesbian parents who came with about 100 children to the traditional Easter Egg Roll, along with about 16,000 other families. Gri, Mott and their boys wore the colorful garlands to show that "we are everywhere," Mott said.

The couple said that they ran into co-workers who hadn't known they were gay and that they were approached by White House staff members who quietly shook their hands and thanked them for coming.

Their sons, Caleb, 8, and Alfred, 6, said they had a great time.

A half-dozen protesters stood outside the South Lawn gates with large signs and a bullhorn. They yelled at all the families, telling the heterosexual parents that their children would be punished with colds for coming to an event that included gay men and lesbians. They also compared gay families to the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus, saying that all three are make-believe.

Some of the gay and lesbian parents and their children were disappointed that they didn't get to see the president and first lady, who were there when the bell was rung to signal the beginning of the egg roll. Even though the group had gotten in line for the first-come, first-served tickets the night before they were distributed, they were too late to get tickets for an early time slot -- the line had started forming 12 hours earlier.

But once inside the White House gates, the families said they had a joyous time, despite the dreary drizzle.

"I think people really got to see the variety of what an American family can look like," said Mary Hunt of Silver Spring, who came to the event with her partner, Diann Neu, and their 5-year-old daughter, Min. "In the end, everybody watched their kids have a good time, everybody got wet. If anything, it was an educational event, not a political one."

The en masse attendance, organized by gay rights groups, had been planned for months. In that time, the parents debated how they would call attention to themselves. They said they settled on leis rather than T-shirts or slogans because they didn't want to shift the focus from the children and the festivities.

"I thought this was a very subtle, nonviolent, lovely, pleasant way to identify ourselves," Hunt said.

The protesters camped out for nearly six hours near the South Lawn, where hundreds of parents leaving the event passed by.

One of the demonstrators, Ruben Israel, 43, said he had flown from Los Angeles for the event. He wore a tool belt holding a well-worn Bible and two small extension cords. He took out the cords and poked the two pronged ends together.

"See, it doesn't work. Two men don't make a baby," he said to the sopping wet passersby who would listen.

Most of the gay and lesbian parents put their heads down and kept walking. But some of the other families yelled back at the protesters, telling them to go home.

"That's great, let's blow it for the kids," Jennifer Batten, 30, of Annapolis said as the protesters accused her of shielding her children from "the Biblical truth." She rushed her 9-year-old daughter past the men and wheeled her 2-year-old in his stroller. Then she stopped, turned around and said, "It's my choice how and when I want to teach my children about this. It's not your place."

Grandmothers tugged at children who tried to read the large, explicitly worded signs. Wives yelled at husbands who lost their temper and cursed at the protesters.

One soldier who strode by gave the demonstrators a quiet thumbs-up. And a man with his son on his shoulders told them, "You're doing the right thing."

© 2006 The Washington Post Company