What to Know
- Dr. Rachel Levine, Pennsylvania's heath secretary, is one of the highest-ranking transgender people in public service
- Despite transphobic comments directed her way, she's remained focused on the fight against COVID-19
- On Tuesday, she took a moment to share a powerful, personal response to transphobic incidents and how they affect young people in particular
For months, she's been a steady voice at a socially distanced podium. Even when the COVID-19 news was bad, Dr. Rachel Levine was unflappable. She called herself "optimistic" and reminded listeners to wash their hands.
She also kept her own story out of the spotlight. Levine, a pediatrician by training, is one of the highest-ranking transgender people in public service. But her focus throughout the COVID-19 crisis has been on the difficult job ahead of her.
Even when transphobic comments surfaced – a radio personality in Pittsburgh referring to her as "sir," a bearded man dressed like her in a local fair's dunk tank – Levine objected, but she focused on the fight against COVID-19.
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Before a scheduled press conference on nursing home cases, Levine took a moment to give a powerful, personal response to the transphobia she has faced.
"I have no room in my heart for hatred, and frankly I do not have time for intolerance," Levine said. "My heart is full with a burning desire to help people and my time is full with working toward protecting the public health of everyone in Pennsylvania from the impact of the global pandemic due to COVID-19."
Levine has had to make difficult decisions during the pandemic, including advising her boss, Gov. Tom Wolf, on restrictions on public life.
She's been publicly supported by Wolf, and by groups including the Pennsylvania Commission on LGBTQ Affairs, which called the invective Levine has faced "some of the most vile and toxic transphobia our Commission has seen in our commonwealth in recent years."
In her comments, Levine reminded her listeners that the transphobia hurts not only her but vulnerable LGBTQ youth.
"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," she said. "Your actions perpetuate the spirit of intolerance and discrimination against LGBTQ individuals and specifically, transgender individuals."
And she spoke directly to those young people as well.
"To all LGBTQ young people, it is OK to be you," Levine said. "And it is OK to stand up for your rights and your freedoms."