Pennsylvania Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine took time during a recent news conference to denounce transphobic attacks made against her in recent months, after being thrust into the spotlight as the commonwealth’s point-person on the COVID-19 pandemic.
Recently, Levine, a transgender woman, has been targeted by transphobic memes on Facebook, including one that called her a “guy who wears a bra.”
In her daily press briefing, Levine said she felt compelled to personally respond to the attacks against her, while also thanking Gov. Tom Wolf (D), her boss, for standing by her and for exercising leadership during troubling times.
“I want to emphasize that while these individuals may think they are only expressing their displeasure with me, they are in fact hurting the thousands of LGBTQ Pennsylvanians who suffer directly from these current demonstrations of harassment,” Levine said. “Your actions perpetuate a spirit of intolerance and discrimination against LGBTQ individuals and specifically transgender individuals.”
Among the attacks against Levine, last week a Tioga County restaurant, Crossroads Tavern, made headlines for printing a menu that offered an item called “Levine Balls.”
It was described as, “Two spicy cheese balls named after Health Secretary Levine since he/she does not realize he has a set and would not miss them,” reports Central Pennsylvania CBS affiliate WETM.
Also last week, organizers of the Bloomsburg Fair were attacked on social media after a Facebook post of a man wearing a black-and-pink dress, wig, and glasses in a dunk-tank fundraiser was referred to “Dr. Levine.”
“Dr. Levine? Thank you. You were a hit and raised a lot of money for the local fire companies. Wonder why so many people were trying to dunk on you?” the post, which has since been taken down, read, according to the Penn Capital-Star.
Bloomsburg Fair President Randy Karschner attempted to apologize for the incident, saying that “no discrimination was intended at all” and that “it was a good time until it hit social media.”
Fair officials claim the man in the dress was supposed to be Marilyn Monroe, but several reporters have noted that Monroe wasn’t famous for wearing glasses, unlike Levine.
In her briefing, Levine noted that the Supreme Court only recently ruled that anti-LGBTQ employment discrimination is illegal.
She also pointed out that LGBTQ individuals still face other myriad forms of discrimination, including discrimination in housing and public accommodations, which are not explicitly outlawed in Pennsylvania, save for a handful of counties or cities.
Levine added that transphobic and homophobic attacks and harassment are especially harmful to marginalized groups within the LGBTQ community, such as people of color, youth, seniors, and immigrants.
“To the perpetrators of these actions, if your apologies are sincerely given, then I accept your apologies,” Levine said. “But an apology is the beginning, not the end of the conversation. I call on you, and all Pennsylvanians, to work towards a spirit of not just tolerance but a spirit of acceptance and welcoming towards LGBTQ individuals.
“We all need to foster that spirit of acceptance and welcoming to LGBTQ individuals and celebrate the wonderful diversity of our commonwealth,” she added. “Our children are watching. They are watching what we do and they are watching how we act.”
She also sent a message to LGBTQ young people, telling them it was okay to live openly according to their true identities, and to stand up for their rights and freedoms when they feel they’re being violated.
“I have no room in my heart for hatred and frankly I do not have time for intolerance,” she concluded. “My heart is full with a burning desire to help people and my time is full with working towards protecting the public health of everyone in Pennsylvania from the impact of the global pandemic due to COVID-19. And I will stay laser focused on that goal.”
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