Pennsylvania Commission on LGBTQ Affairs defends Dr. Rachel Levine

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Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine answering questions from the press. Harrisburg, PA, June 5, 2020

The  Pennsylvania Commission on LGBTQ Affairs recently issued a statement defending Dr. Rachel Levine, the state’s highest-ranking transgender official. About 25 Republican state legislators have called for Levine’s removal as Pennsylvania’s secretary of health — alleging she’s incompetent. Many of their constituents have posted transphobic comments about Levine online, which the legislators haven’t disavowed.

Levine, 62, is a graduate of Harvard College and Tulane University School of Medicine. In a June 5 statement, the commission’s executive director, Rafael Álvarez Febo, praised Levine. “Since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States, Pennsylvanians have tremendously benefited from the steadfast leadership of [Levine],” Alvarez Febo said.

“Dr. Levine has provided critical information to keep us safe from this dangerous virus, while also making important decisions managing the Pennsylvania Department of Health. Dr. Levine is a respected physician with decades of experience in healthcare. The leadership of Dr. Levine and her staff has helped save countless lives during this unprecedented time. In addition to a wealth of knowledge and experience, Dr. Levine has also proven to be a calming presence on our screens with her daily press conferences,” Alvarez Febo continued. 

Alvarez Febo then spoke to the transphobia suffered by Levine and all trans people in Pennsylvania. 

“Week after week, members of the LGBTQ community and thousands of Pennsylvanians have tuned in [to social media] to be informed by our health secretary, only to be assaulted by streams of comments and slurs aimed directly at Dr. Levine and indirectly at all transgender Pennsylvanians.” Alvarez Febo added.

“In times of crisis and pain, LGBTQ individuals are united in pushing back against transphobia of any kind. Members of the commission believe that the health and safety of Pennsylvanians should not be undermined due to these toxic and personal attacks. We will continue to support the leadership of Dr. Rachel Levine and the Pennsylvania Department of Health to help get us through these uncertain times,” Alvarez Febo concluded.

Levine declined to comment about the commission’s statement.

Deja Lynn Alvarez, a local trans advocate and acquaintance of Levine, expressed agreement with the statement. “Pennsylvania has been extremely lucky that we have somebody like Dr. Levine as our health secretary,” Alvarez told PGN. “Any criticism of her policy decisions are coming from Republicans who should be blaming [President] Trump and the Republican party for refusing to deal with the pandemic when they were first told about it.”

Alvarez scoffed at a resolution pending in the state House of Representatives calling for Levine’s resignation or removal. “It’s based on hate and bigotry,” she said. Alvarez said she’s spoken to Levine on multiple occasions and was impressed with her attributes. “She’s incredibly intelligent,” Alvarez added. “She’s also a very down to earth, compassionate and warm person. Always nice and gracious.”

Alvarez said she looks forward to Levine’s daily COVID-19 briefings. “She stays calm and steady. She speaks in a way that all of us understand without talking down to us. She talks to us instead of at us or down to us,” Alvarez said.

Alvarez noted that Levine has received mostly favorable coverage in the news media. “For the most part the media coverage has been good — except for that one clown [radio host Marty Griffin] who kept misgendering her. Other than that, the news media has been pretty honest about her. If she were doing a bad job, they would have said so.”

Griffin, a radio host for KDKA-AM in Pittsburgh, issued an apology on Twitter. 

Alvarez said she would like to see Joe Biden nominate Levine to serve as U.S. surgeon general if Biden becomes president. “I would love to see him select her as our Top Doc,” Alvarez continued. “I just believe in her, watching how she’s handling this pandemic. Even with all the insults, she doesn’t let it take her off course. She’s stayed focused on the pandemic. That’s not always an easy thing to do. That, to me, exemplifies leadership.”

On June 8, Mazzoni Center issued the following statement in support of Levine: “Mazzoni Center extends support of and appreciation to Dr. Rachel Levine for her exceptional leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Her experience as a healthcare provider and her public health policies have guided a thoughtful and data-driven response in this unsettling and difficult time for all of the citizens of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.  As a provider of care to patients from populations hard hit by COVID and discrimination for who they are, we value leaders like Dr. Levine who remain steadfast in upholding fairness and quality care for LGBTQ folks and others in vulnerable communities. Dr. Levine is exactly who Pennsylvania needs to lead us through this current public health crisis.”

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