White House bashes 'dishonest' Republican criticism of Biden's transgender proclamation on Easter

Easter's date happened to coincide with the Transgender Day of Visibility.

April 1, 2024, 5:10 PM

The White House is pushing back against top Republicans' misleading criticism of President Joe Biden for issuing a proclamation in support of transgender people on the same day as Easter.

A spokesman for the president rejected the attacks from the House speaker, former President Donald Trump and others that Biden's "blasphemous" message for the Transgender Day of Visibility goes against Christianity.

"As a Christian who celebrates Easter with family, President Biden stands for bringing people together and upholding the dignity and freedoms of every American," White House spokesperson Andrew Bates said in a statement to ABC News.

"Sadly, it's unsurprising politicians are seeking to divide and weaken our country with cruel, hateful, and dishonest rhetoric. President Biden will never abuse his faith for political purposes or for profit," Bates added.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre likewise on Monday called out "cruel, hateful and dishonest rhetoric" around the president's proclamation.

She told reporters that the administration was "surprised by the misinformation" that circulated but said it was "unsurprising that politicians are seeking to divide" the country.

Biden, who is only America's second Catholic president and regularly attends Mass -- but has faced some outcry among conservative Catholics for his stances on same-sex marriage and abortion -- faced mounting conservative attacks over the weekend.

That was fuled by a proclamation he issued on Friday honoring "the extraordinary courage and contributions of transgender Americans" for the Transgender Day of Visibility, which occurs annually on March 31.

The date of Easter, which varies, fell on the same day this year.

Biden has issued a proclamation marking March 31 as the Transgender Day of Visibility every year since he took office in 2021.

He also issued a statement on Sunday marking Easter, saying in part that it "reminds us of the power of hope and the promise of Christ's Resurrection. As we gather with loved ones, we remember Jesus' sacrifice. We pray for one another and cherish the blessing of the dawn of new possibilities."

President Joe Biden speaks, as he announces a preliminary agreement with Intel for a major CHIPS and Science Act award, during a visit to the Intel Ocotillo Campus, in Chandler, Ariz., March 20, 2024.
Kevin Lamarque/Reuters, FILE

Speaker Mike Johnson on Saturday posted on X that the Biden administration "has betrayed the central tenet of Easter--which is the resurrection of Jesus Christ."

The speaker went on to say that Biden's conduct around Easter was "outrageous and abhorrent," including him "proclaiming Easter Sunday as 'Transgender Day,'" though the president was actually marking a date that has been celebrated since 2009.

ABC News reached out to Johnson's office for further comment and got no response.

Former 2024 GOP presidential candidate and businessman Vivek Ramaswamy echoed Johnson's attack in social media posts of his own.

Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, another former Republican presidential candidate, likewise sent a text to supporters -- accompanied by a donation link -- saying that Biden had "insulted Christians everywhere."

Trump's reelection campaign on Saturday joined the chorus of Republican critics, slamming Biden's proclamation as "blasphemous."

"We call on Joe Biden's failing campaign and White House to issue an apology to the millions of Catholics and Christians across America who believe tomorrow is for one celebration only -- the resurrection of Jesus Christ," Trump campaign press secretary Karoline Leavitt said in a statement.

She doubled down in a subsequent statement to ABC News, claiming in part that "the Biden Administration has spent years appeasing left-wing activists and disrespecting the Christian faith. We are still waiting on Joe Biden and Kamala Harris to apologize."

Trump has a history of questioning his opponents' religious beliefs.

President Joe Biden speaks at the Washoe Democratic Party Office in Reno, Nev., on March 19, 2024.
Jacquelyn Martin/AP

Biden allies joined him in challenging the backlash.

"This is just one more instance of folks who do not know how to lead us trying to divide us, and this is the opposite of the Christian faith," Georgia Sen. Raphael Warnock, who is also a pastor in Atlanta, said on CNN on Sunday.

Rachel Crandall-Crocker, the Michigan-based founder of the Transgender Day of Visibility, shrugged off the repsonse.

"Actually I think it's kind of funny. Apparently, a lot of conservatives don't know how the calendar works," she told ABC News.

"We are a very small community and we're easy to pick on. However, we aren't nearly as small as we used to be. As a result of [the] transgender visibility day, we've grown so much and we're actually a worldwide community all together right now," she said.

And so the spotlight from trans critics could be a good thing for her community, she said.

"I actually think that up until yesterday there were a lot of people that had never heard of visibility day," she said. "Well, they have now."

Another layer to the controoversy surrounds an egg art contest for the annual Easter Egg Roll scheduled for Monday at the White House. Trump, Johnson, Scott and Ramaswamy each claimed the administration had banned religious depictions as part of the contest.

The American Egg Board, which works to promote egg farmers, has partnered with the White House for the annual exhibits around Easter for 47 years, including during the Trump administration, a spokesperson told ABC News.

The spokesperson said the board, which was created by Congress, must follow federal guidelines, including one that prohibits them from being favorable to a religion -- language they said they've included in their promotions for years.

A copy of this year's flyer calling for submissions to the youth egg art contest lists restrictions including the promotion of discrimination, illegal drugs and firearms or "any questionable content, religious symbols, overtly religious themes, or partisan political statements."

"The American Egg Board has been a supporter of the White House Easter Egg Roll for over 45 years and the guideline language referenced in recent news reports has consistently applied to the board since its founding, across administrations," the organization said in a statement.

ABC News' Lalee Ibssa and Soo Rin Kim contributed to this report.