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Pa. health secretary denounces transphobic attacks: ‘Our children are watching’

As the face of the state’s COVID-19 response, Health Secretary Rachel Levine has been the subject of numerous personal attacks.

  • Sara Simon/Spotlight PA
Health Secretary Rachel Levine said in early June her department is

 Commonwealth Media Services

Health Secretary Rachel Levine said in early June her department is "working to update and rewrite our regulations to ensure that they protect the residents of today and tomorrow."

Ed Mahon / PA Post

Health Secretary Rachel Levine stands at a news conference on June 29, 2020, in Dauphin County.

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HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania’s top health official on Tuesday denounced a recent series of transphobic attacks against her, saying she felt compelled to personally address the discrimination.

“While these individuals may think that 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,” Health Secretary Rachel Levine said at a news briefing.

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

The remarks were unusual for Levine, who, despite facing numerous personal attacks, has tended to stick to business during her public appearances to discuss COVID-19.

But the harassment has grown more public and unabashed recently. A Tioga County restaurant printed a menu featuring a transphobic item description that targeted the health secretary, and the Bloomsburg Fair apologized after it called a man who wore a dress and wig in a dunk tank for a fundraiser “Dr. Levine.”

In her remarks, Levine expressed the need for Pennsylvanians to “work towards a spirit of not just tolerance, but a spirit of acceptance and welcoming” and told LGBTQ youth “it is OK to be you.”

“Our children are watching,” she said. “They are watching what we do. And they are watching how we act.”

Levine is one of only a handful of high-profile transgender public officials in the U.S., and she is the first transgender person to lead a Pennsylvania state agency. She has worked in Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration for more than five years, first as physician general, then as acting secretary of health. She was confirmed to the position in March 2018.

As the face of the state’s coronavirus response, Levine has been criticized for the health department’s handling of the disease inside nursing homes and for its approach to data transparency.

But Levine has also been subjected to a barrage of personal attacks by commenters on social media, public officials, and a member of the press. On a phone call with reporters in May, a Pittsburgh radio host repeatedly misgendered Levine, prompting her to correct him.

Last week, Wolf released a statement in support of Levine.

“Dr. Levine is a distinguished and accomplished public servant. She is committed to keeping Pennsylvanians safe and healthy, even those who direct hate-fueled attacks at her,” the statement said. “Hate has no place in Pennsylvania.”

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