Pennsylvania's Health Secretary Chief Blasts Transphobic Attacks She's Faced

Dr. Rachel Levine decries incidents perpetuating "a spirit of intolerance and discrimination" as she focuses on COVID-19.

Pennsylvania’s health secretary began a coronavirus briefing this week by condemning the “multiple incidents of LGBTQ harassment and, specifically, transphobia” directed at her in recent weeks.

Dr. Rachel Levine, who is transgender, on Tuesday spoke out against the anti-LGBTQ sentiment she has experienced while being a key player in her state’s efforts to stem the coronavirus pandemic, noting that such attacks were both hurtful and impactful to Pennsylvania’s queer community as a whole.

“Your actions perpetuate the spirit of intolerance and discrimination against LGBTQ individuals, and specifically transgender individuals,” Levine said. “I have no room in my heart for hatred, and frankly, I do not have time for intolerance. 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.”

“I will stay laser-focused on that goal,” she added.

Later on Tuesday, Levine posted a rainbow quote card on Twitter that featured a line from her speech.

As part of Pennsylvania’s efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus, Levine has spoken with and appeared on media outlets across the state, discussing state-issued social distance guidelines and shutdown orders to businesses and residents.

But as her profile has increased, her critics have become more outspoken, with many choosing to focus on her gender identity as opposed to policy matters.

In May, radio host Marty Griffin repeatedly misgendered Levine in an interview on Pittsburgh’s KDKA-AM station. Earlier this month, the state’s Bloomsburg Fair used a photo of a man impersonating Levine by wearing a wig and a dress to promote an event for local volunteer fire departments on Facebook.

“Dr. Levine? Thank you you were a hit and raised a lot of money for the local fire companies,” the post, which has since been deleted, reportedly read. “Wonder why so many were trying to dunk you.”

This week, the Crossroad Tavern in Morris Township apologized after it came under fire for introducing a menu item, “Levine balls,” that mocked the health secretary.

On Tuesday, Levine said she accepted the apologies she’s received, but added, “An apology is the beginning, not the end, of a conversation.”

“I call on you and all Pennsylvanians to work toward a spirit of not just tolerance, but a spirit of acceptance and welcoming towards LGBTQ individuals,” she said.

Levine, a professor at the Penn State School of Medicine who was appointed to her post in 2017 by Gov. Tom Wolf (D), shrugged off much of the criticism she received previously in her career in an LGBTQ Pride Month interview with NBC News in June.

“I hope that by being a public figure and being secretary of health during this public health crisis, that that educates people about LGBTQ individuals and transgender individuals — and if they are educated, then they fear less,” she said. “Thus, they get less angry, and thus, they hate less.”

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