HARRISBURG — The controversial social media posting by the Bloomsburg Fair that mocked Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine was a “vile act” of transphobia, Gov. Tom Wolf said today.
The post focused on video of a man dressed as a woman while sitting in a dunking booth. It included the words, “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.”
Levine is a transgender woman and as a member of the governor's cabinet, she is the highest-ranking transgender public official in the state. She has been Secretary of Health since 2018.
Levine has largely led the state’s effort to communicate its strategy for slowing the spread of coronavirus, appearing in daily briefings for several months when the state’s initial wave of coronavirus was at its height. As such, she has also emerged as a target of criticism from those who feel that the state’s response has been flawed.
“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. I’m proud of the work she has done,” Wolf said. “Hate has no place in Pennsylvania, even in the smallest transphobic joke, action or social media post. I’m calling upon all Pennsylvanians to speak out against hateful comments and acts, including the transphobia directed at Dr. Levine and all transgender people in our great commonwealth.”
Rafael Álvarez Febo, executive director of the Pennsylvania Commission on LGBTQ Affairs said the fair association was “catering to transphobic sentiments” when they posted about the health secretary.
“Marginalized communities know when we are being targeted and will not be gas-lit into thinking this was just about Dr. Levine's position as Secretary of Health,” Febo said.
Bloomsburg Fair Association President Randy Karschner told reporters during a fairgrounds news conference Tuesday, "We're here to apologize for something that went bad."
A written statement from the Fair Association expressed “our sincerest apologies” to Dr. Levine and said the fair “prides itself on celebrating diversity and inclusion.”
In response to the incident, a group of more than 50 LGBTQ organizations today sent a letter demanding a more substantive response from the fair association.
"Public displays of bigotry have no place in our public discourse. Transgender Pennsylvanians deserve better than to see this anti-trans stunt from the Bloomsburg Fair,” said Adrian Shanker, executive director of the Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center in Allentown. “Dr. Levine deserves respect for her thoughtful navigation of the COVID-19 response in Pennsylvania. The leadership of the Bloomsburg Fair must do better."
The groups’ demands included:
-- A written apology to Levine;
-- A commitment by the fair to donate as much as was raised in the dunk tank fundraiser to a local LGBTQ organization,
-- The posting of an LGBTQ-inclusive non-discrimination policy on the Bloomsburg Fair’s website;
-- And complimentary vendor space at the next two Bloomsburg Fairs to serve as a LGBTQ “welcome and resource center” at the event.