Pennsylvania Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine, who is transgender, is facing transphobic jokes and verbal abuse as she leads the state’s response to COVID-19.
“Levine has been subjected to a stream of mockery and abuse on social media and elsewhere,” the Associated Press reports. “Every time she goes on camera to update the public and implore Pennsylvanians to wear masks, wash their hands and ‘stay calm, stay alert and stay safe,’ ugly comments and memes follow.”
Then, last weekend, an event at the Bloomsburg Fair in eastern Pennsylvania gave attendees the chance to drop a man dressed as Levine into a dunk tank. The man wore glasses, a flower-print dress, and a blond wig. Tickets sold for the dunk tank benefited volunteer fire departments in the area.
“Dr. Levine? Thank you, you were a hit and raised a lot of money for the local fire companies. Wonder why so many were trying to dunk you,” the Bloomsburg Fair Association posted on Facebook, with photos of the Levine impersonator and a smiley-face emoji.
The association has now taken the post down, although local media preserved screen shots of it, and said there was no transphobic intent behind caricaturing Levine. Officials with the group held a news conference Tuesday and apologized for the event, which was criticized by many public officials, including Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, and even some of the beneficiaries.
David Broadt, a volunteer fire chief who impersonated Levine, said he was actually “going for a Marilyn Monroe look,” but when people commented that he resembled Levine, he decided to go along. “It was just in fun,” he said, according to Bloomsburg’s Press Enterprise. “It wasn’t done to disrespect her.”
The transphobia aimed at Levine also has included a comment by Scott Township Commissioner Paul Abel saying he was “tired of listening to a guy dressed up like a woman.” He resigned afterward, the AP notes. And an official in the small town of Hellam posted on Facebook, “If you are ordered to wear a mask by a guy who wears a bra, you might be Pennsylvanian.” Hellam’s mayor condemned the post.
The Pennsylvania Commission on LGBTQ Affairs issued a statement in June denouncing such transphobic comments. Levine “has been met with some of the most vile and toxic transphobia our Commission has seen in our commonwealth in recent years,” the statement reads. “Week after week, members of the LGBTQ community and thousands of Pennsylvanians have tuned in to be informed by our Health Secretary only to be assaulted by streams of comments and slurs aimed directly at Dr. Levine and indirectly at all transgender Pennsylvanians.”
Levine declined to comment to the AP on the matter. She “remains laser-focused on protecting the health and well-being of Pennsylvanians as we navigate this ongoing pandemic,” aide Nate Wardle told the news service.