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State health secretary Dr. Rachel Levine fires back at transphobic comments

Ron Musselman
York Dispatch
Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine visits WellSpan York Hospital to thank health care workers and hospital staff for their essential role in protecting Pennsylvanians during the COVID-19 pandemic, Tuesday, July 22, 2020
John A. Pavoncello photo

Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine fired back Tuesday at critics who have directed transphobic comments at her during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I feel that I must personally respond to the multiple incidents of LGBTQ harassment, and specifically transphobia, directed at me, that have been reported in the press,” Levine said in a statement before her news briefing.

A dunk tank at the Bloomsburg Fair, Facebook posts and a Pittsburgh radio host have all mocked the gender identity of Levine, a transgender woman.

More:Hallam mayor blasts local organization's transphobic jab at Health Secretary Levine

Locally, a derogatory social media post about Levine last week caused an online uproar after the Hellam Recreation Facebook page shared it.

In response to the York County incident, a deputy press secretary for the Department of Health referred to a June statement released by the Pennsylvania Commission on LGBTQ Affairs.

The commission stated that Levine has provided critical information and leadership for Pennsylvania during the COVID-19 crisis, only to be met with "some of the most vile and toxic transphobia" the commission had witnessed in years.

That included an incident in which reporter Marty Griffin of KDKA radio in Pittsburgh repeatedly misgendered Levine during a media conference call in May.

“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 in her statement. 

“Your actions perpetuate a spirit of intolerance and discrimination against LGBTQ individuals and specifically transgender individuals."

Levine said she accepts apologies from individuals, if they are sincere, but she said that is just the beginning of the conversation. 

“I have no room in my heart for hatred and frankly I do not have time for intolerance,” Levine said. “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.”

The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape denounced the attacks on Levine and the transgender community, calling them "transphobic and hate speech."

"We fully support Dr. Levine and all members of the transgender community," the organization said in a statement. "Sexual harassment, abuse, and assault thrive when people devalue and disrespect others. To end these acts, we must work together to end the many forms of oppression, including homophobia, biphobia and transphobi, and replace those with values of equity, respect, mutuality, and consent.

"The disrespectful language and attitudes directed at Dr. Levine have no place in public discourse and should be publicly acknowledged for the hate that it espouses."

— Ron Musselman can be reached at rmusselman@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @ronmusselman8.