A Pennsylvania lawmaker is facing reprimand for posting disparaging remarks about Dr. Rachel Levine, the state’s secretary of health and Joe Biden’s nominee for Assistant Secretary for Health. If confirmed, she will be the first out transgender person appointed to a federal position and confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
State Rep. Jeff Pyle (R) has issued an apology for “the error of my post” which attempted to “poke fun at” Dr. Levine, who has been consistently targeted with transphobia over the last year as she led Pennsylvania’s coronavirus response. He did not publicly apologize to Dr. Levine, however.
Pyle made the post in question on Facebook last week, including a meme that misgendered Dr. Levine and mockingly compared her to “Benjamin Franklin.”
“American citizens express optimism and renewed hope as Benjamin Franklin joins Joe Biden’s cabinet,” the meme read. It has since been deleted.
State Rep. Brian Sims (D), the co-chair of the LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, wrote on Twitter that Pyle “must be condemned” and transphobia has no place in the legislature.
“By attacking Sec. Levine in this way, Rep. Pyle has perpetuated both transphobia and discrimination against the LGBTQ+ communities which have among the highest rates of civil rights violations and discrimination in the nation, often with deadly consequences,” Sims wrote.
Sims added that as long as Pyle has not received a reprimand for the post, “he continues to place her, and hundreds of thousands of LGBTQ+ people in the Commonwealth, at risk for further discrimination to attack.”
Homophobia and transphobia have no place in the General Assembly or in our commonwealth. The kind of discrimination & hatred displayed by Rep. Pyle are a direct violation of the public trust afforded to him as a member of the General Assembly. 2/4
— Brian Sims (@BrianSimsPA) January 21, 2021
State @RepJeffPyle has brought the House of Representatives into dishonor and disrepute and until his actions are addressed, he continues to place her, and hundreds of thousands of LGBTQ+ people in the Commonwealth, at risk for further discrimination to attack. 4/4
— Brian Sims (@BrianSimsPA) January 21, 2021
Pyle, who has been in office since 2005, issued his apology on January 23, writing that he was sorry for sharing a meme “from another page.”
He claimed, “I had no idea it would be received as poorly as it was. Tens of thousands of emails assured me it was.”
Pyle said he would be “leaving Facebook” and taking down his page, but that he did not plan to resign and had a conversation with the Democratic party leadership about the post.
“From this situation I have learned to not poke fun at people different than me and to hold my tongue. Be a bigger man.”
“Ironically I wrote none of the offending meme-I shared it verbatim from another page,” he attempted to justify in his apology, “but that matters naught – I should not have posted it.”
Rep. Pyle has issued the following statement. Apologies are rare and while I hope that this one also comes with support or at least condemnation of future discrimination, I’m glad to see it. pic.twitter.com/HQLJZCEreC
— Brian Sims (@BrianSimsPA) January 23, 2021
Yep⤵️. Dr. Levine has served with complete professional competence and good faith. And those are the only relevant criteria. https://t.co/N81kSkBodc
— Rep. Joe Webster (@RepJoeWebster) January 23, 2021
The LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus that Sims leads has still called for leadership to “reprimand Rep. Jeff Pyle for his transphobic attack.”
The Caucus’s statement calls Pyle’s actions “overt, hurtful, and dangerous” and “antithetical to the values and morals established in our Constitution.”
Sims noted on Twitter that Pyle and others have raised concerns about the safety of his family in the aftermath of the post.
“I hope we can all agree that individuals are responsible for their actions, not their loved ones or family members,” Sims tweeted. “My ask is that everyone address Rep. Pyle and the appropriate House Leadership with your concerns, and only them.”
Part of demanding better behavior is modeling it & I hope we can all agree that individuals are responsible for their actions, not their loved ones or family members. My ask is that everyone address Rep. Pyle and the appropriate House Leadership with your concerns, and only them.
— Brian Sims (@BrianSimsPA) January 22, 2021
As surgeon general of the state of Pennsylvania, Dr. Levine has led the state’s response to the pandemic, at times facing heavy criticism – and straight-up transphobia – from conservatives in her state.
“Dr. Rachel Levine is a remarkable public servant with the knowledge and experience to help us contain this pandemic, and protect and improve the health and well-being of the American people,” Vice President Kamala Harris said in a statement announcing her nomination. “President-elect Biden and I look forward to working with her to meet the unprecedented challenges facing Americans and rebuild our country in a way that lifts everyone up.”
Her appointment also signals the incoming Biden administration’s commitment to end attacks on LGBTQ health. HHS was at the center of numerous attacks on LGBTQ people during the Trump administration.
Previously, one Republican official in the state resigned after insulting Levine, and another refused to apologize for deadnaming her. A county fair booth garnered funds by allowing someone to dunk a man impersonating Dr. Levine in water, and a restaurant named menu items after her in a derogatory fashion.
“Frankly, I do not have time for intolerance,” she told LGBTQ Nation in a 2020 interview. “My heart is full with a burning desire to help people. And my time is full with working toward protecting the public health.”
“I think that we need to continue to educate people about LGBTQ individuals,” she shared. “We are just here, we’re part of the community. We are doctors, we are nurses, we are teachers. We work in restaurants. We work everywhere, and it’s our children. So I think if an apology means, ‘Okay, I apologize. This is all done,’ then it is insufficient.”