WASHINGTON – Thousands of children, including some brought by gay and lesbian parents, braved chilly rain at the South Lawn of the White House Monday to roll colored eggs across soggy grass as part of an event dating to the 19th century.
About 16,000 tickets were distributed for the day-long event, and about a hundred gay and lesbian parents lined up for the passes handed out on a first-come-first-served basis.
The gay and lesbian couples, who wore rainbow-colored leis, said they wanted to give their children an opportunity to have fun while making a political statement that they should be welcome.
"We just wanted to come out to be visible and present and to let people see we are families, too," said Alisa Surkis, 42, of Brooklyn, N.Y., as 3-year-old-daughter Ella clamored for her partner, Colleen Gillespie, to take her over to see the Easter Bunny.
The Family Pride Coalition and other organizers said they wanted to use this year's event to raise the profile of gay and lesbian couples, a move that drew the protest of conservative groups who said they were trying to "crash" an event.
Several gay couples said Monday they had encountered no problems once they had obtained tickets.
"For me, I would never have thought of coming on our own," said Kevin Patton-hock, 46, of Boston, who attended with his partner Arthur and their two kids, 6-year-old Mao and 5-year-old Chet.
"Like any parent, you want to protect your kids from the icky places," Patton-hock said. "I know there are some parents who will have some issues with us."
Bundled in raincoats, President Bush and First Lady Laura Bush kicked off this year's egg roll before a cheering crowd. The president blew the whistle to start the race, a scramble in which children use big spoons to push the eggs.
"Welcome to this happiest of traditions at the White House," Laura Bush told the crowd. "In Washington, we know that spring has arrived when the White House lawn is filled with children for the Easter Egg Hunt."
The Bushes posed for pictures with families at the event, which was closed off to the public in the early morning hours. Attending at the event's start were White House staff, youth volunteer groups, kids from the Gulf Coast region and other invited guests.
Thousands of eggs were dyed in pastel colors for the egg roll races, as well as for an egg hunt. Other eggs were available for children to color, as people dressed up as characters including the Easter Bunny strolled around the South Lawn.
The White House egg roll has been a tradition since the mid-19th century. The celebration took place on the Capitol grounds until 1878, when it was moved to the White House by Lucy Hayes, wife of President Rutherford Hayes.