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Which came first: the controversy or the egg?

An Anti-Gay Easter

BY John Ireland

Whose children will be allowed to participate in the White House’s annual Easter Egg Roll on April 17? Not the sons and daughters of gay parents, if the Christian right gets its way.

In November, when the Family Pride Coalition, a D.C.-based gay rights advocacy group, invited its members to participate in one of the “great traditions of our country” the religious right sprang into action. The Institute on Religion and Democracy, a religious think tank, accused the Family Pride Coalition of trying to “exploit a children’s event for political purposes.” Even the White House has weighed in.

“Will the president take any measures to prevent these activists from using this non-political event as a way to push their agenda on the rest of us?” asked a pool reporter (not Jeff Gannon). White House spokesman Scott McClellan responded, “We’ll talk about it as we get closer. I’ve seen a couple of reports about it; I don’t know how extensive that reporting has been. But this has been a family event for a long time and the president always looks forward to this event. “

Jennifer Chrisler, Family Pride executive director, defended the coalition’s organizing effort this way: “Approximately 9 million children are being raised in LGBT-headed households. We strive like every other parent in this country to give our children the best opportunities, to shower them with love, to teach them respect and a love for the rich and diverse traditions America has to offer them.”

The Family Pride Coalition plans to issue T-shirts to egg-rollers that bear a “non-political message,” such as “Love Makes a Family.” But in light of the U.S. Capitol police dragging Cindy Sheehan out of the House of Representatives gallery before the President’s State of the Union speech in January, wearing a T-shirt these days might be a bit too extreme.

For gay parents and their children, simply going out in public as a family could be considered political in most communities across the United States. Gay parents holding hands at the White House Easter Egg Roll would be considered by many an aggressive statement. Why? The anti-gay movement is threatened by people who are visibly gay, because that leads to normalization and a relaxing of stigmas.

The Christian right blogosphere is afire, condemning the presence of gay parents on the White House lawn as “nearly terrorist threats from the homo lobby.” One post suggests that “White House psychologists” should be deployed to help the children of gay parents and implies that they are molested in their homes. Another wishes the gays “good luck,” reminding readers that “the Secret Service carries automatic weapons.”

Such posts are, of course, “those of the individual posters” to www.FreeRepublic.com, “and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of … its operators.” The site claims 200,000 registered members, known as “Freepers,” and a daily readership of “tens of thousands.” Free Republic, founded in 1996, has been embraced by right-wing social conservatives as the online water cooler for “patriots” who are “biased toward God, country, family, liberty and freedom.”

Or at least liberty and freedom for some. “These lowlife scum should just be mowed down like terrorists,” writes one good Christian.

With 16,000 tickets issued for last year’s event, the Easter Egg Roll is the White House’s largest public celebration.

Rutherford B. Hayes was the first president to invite children to spend the morning playing Easter games on the White House lawn. Since 1878, First Ladies have added personal touches. Lou Hoover added Maypole dances. Eleanor Roosevelt greeted the nation via radio from the event in 1933. Pat Nixon introduced the tradition of a White House staffer dressing up as the Easter Bunny. It was under her watch that spoons used in the egg roll race were borrowed from the White House kitchen.

This is not the first time the Egg Roll has seen controversy. In 1954, Mamie Eisenhower allowed African-American parents and their children on the White House lawn for the first time. She did not consider the decision political, but for many white citizens, the only blacks they wanted to see on the White House lawn were gardeners.

Today, some conservative bloggers have suggested that President George W. Bush cancel the event or “de-gay” it by restricting attendance to military families, as he did in 2003.

Often called “the people’s house,” the White House is the ultimate site for the ideals of our government, the legacy of our struggle for independence and liberty. If gay families are not equally welcome there, the message will resonate far beyond its walls.

John Ireland lives with his partner and son in Los Angeles. If they are able to attend the White House Egg Roll in April, they will do so as a family.

John Ireland covers progressive politics and social dynamics in the United States, exploring "democracy in action." He has been published in numerous periodicals, including Newsweek, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Baltimore Sun and the Advocate.

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