Pennsylvania Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine on Tuesday opened her daily coronavirus briefing by personally responding to “the multiple incidents of LGBTQ harassment and specifically transphobia directed at me that have been reported in the press.”
“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.
She noted that despite a recent Supreme Court ruling barring workplace discrimination against LGBTQ people, “LGBTQ individuals can still be denied housing and public accommodations in most places in Pennsylvania that do not have local nondiscrimination ordinances.”
Since becoming the public face of the state’s COVID-19 response, Levine has taken on new prominence through daily briefings where she updates the Pennsylvania public with the latest statistics.
In an interview for an NBC Out Pride month profile, Levine reflected on becoming a well-known face of the transgender community, saying, "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."
But as her public profile has risen, so too have reports of transphobia directed at her. In one recent incident, a Pennsylvania fire department charity event called a man in drag sitting in a dunk tank “Dr. Levine.” Organizers quickly apologized.
In her remarks Tuesday, Levine said she accepted the apologies — if they're sincere.
“But an apology is the beginning, not the end, of a conversation,” Levine said. “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.”
Before proceeding to the daily COVID-19 update, Levine asked all people in the state to set an example for younger generations.
“Our children are watching — they are watching what we do and they are watching how we act,” Levine said. “And to all LGBTQ young people: It is OK to be you, and it is OK to stand up for your rights and your freedoms.”
State Rep. Brian Sims, a Democrat from Philadelphia who is openly gay and a vocal LGBTQ advocate, praised the health secretary for speaking out.
“In just a few short, powerful remarks before literally getting back to the work of saving lives, Dr. Levine reminded every one of her detractors, and certainly all of us that support her, why she’s not just a world-class public health expert, but also a first class LGBTQ+ champion," Sims said in an email. "I’ve never been prouder of her leadership and service.”