Pennsylvania state Rep. Brian K. Sims (D-Philadelphia) has pledged to introduce a resolution censuring state Rep. Russ Diamond (R-Lebanon) for allegedly mocking state Health Secretary Rachel Levine and equating anti-LGBT discrimination to discrimination against people who refuse to wear masks during the COVID-19 pandemic.
On July 31, Sims, who is gay, said on his Facebook page: “Earlier today I directed my staff to file a resolution of censure against Rep. Russ Diamond…Seeing one of our own elected officials attacking somebody who is transgender and doing so in such a grotesque way is not just wrong and not just inappropriate. It is something that is deserving of a censure.”
Sims urged Pennsylvanians to contact their state representatives to co-sponsor the resolution. The House is in recess until September, which would be the earliest time a vote could be held on Sims’ resolution. A censure wouldn’t remove Diamond from office. But it would be a formal statement of disapproval and prevent him from serving on House committees.
On July 28, during a press conference, Levine emphatically denounced anti-trans bias directed at her and the larger LGBT community. The following day, Diamond issued a statement almost identical to Levine’s. But he removed references to the LGBTQ community and replaced them with references to the “maskless community.”
In a press release, Gov. Tom Wolf urged legislators to censure Diamond. “To equate any disrespect for those not wearing masks to the decades of disrespect, threats and violence against our LGBTQ community goes far beyond the hallmarks of a decent society,” Wolf said. “For these actions to come from a legislator elected to fairly represent all his constituents is simply unforgivable.”
State Rep. Mike Schlossberg (D-Lehigh) said he agreed that Diamond should be censured. “I’m not sure which is more offensive — impugning the efforts of people to not sicken their neighbors, or mocking a group of people more likely than the rest of the general population to face discrimination, assault, murder and suicide,” Schlossberg told PGN. “His remarks make me ill. The governor is correct. Rep. Diamond should be censured for his disgusting disregard for dignity.”
State Sen. Sharif Street (D-Philadelphia) also blasted Diamond. “It is unfortunate that an opportunity for unity and healing was met with such an irresponsible and childish response,” Street said in an email. “Dr. Levine has shown herself to be a shining example of a dedicated public servant under extraordinary circumstances. Rep. Diamond, on the other hand, has reminded us that we must continue to fight to ensure all citizens of the Commonwealth are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.”
Mazzoni Center issued this statement regarding Diamond: “[Diamond’s] statement asserting that ‘unmasked’ Pennsylvanians face harassment — which is a line-for-line mockery of Dr. Levine’s statement imploring that people criticizing her refrain from using anti-trans bullying tactics — mocks the serious issue of anti-trans violence. Most people who refuse to wear masks do so by choice, not medical necessity. By contrast, being transgender is not a choice (or, to use Diamond’s term, a ‘lifestyle’) any more than being left-handed is a ‘lifestyle.’ Every day, people who are transgender face harassment and violence because of their identity. Weekly, we hear that yet another LGBTQ+ person was assaulted or even killed — most recently Dominique “Rem-mie” Fells. Diamond falsely equates the glares and lectures that people choosing to not wear a mask may face with anti-LGBTQ+ harassment, violence, and murder. Diamond has constituents who are LGBTQ+, and whatever disagreements he may have on other issues, those people deserve respect and his support. Certainly that requires more than just the brief aside buried in his [follow-up] July 30 statement claiming that he ‘condemns hatred and intolerance.’ If he condemns intolerance, he should start with self-criticism, followed by an apology, for the mocking tone of his original ‘statement’ in support of a fictional ‘unmasked community’ and for condoning, through his ongoing silence, the scourge of anti-LGBTQ+ violence.”
Deja Lynn Alvarez, a transgender leader, amplified Mazzoni’s sentiments. “[Diamond] is an intolerant bigoted jackass who is craving attention he obviously did not get as a child,” Alvarez said. “Much like children throwing temper tantrums — if you give them no attention, they will stop. The fact this country elects people like Russ Diamond is an embarrassment.”
Justin F. Robinette, a civil rights attorney, also agreed that Diamond should be censured. “His gross insensitivity encourages violence against the LGBTQ community,” Robinette said. “He’s a horrible role model for the younger generation. What we need right now is a leader not a bully in these unprecedented times.”
For her part, Levine expressed concern for the LGBTQ community, rather than her own situation.
“Never mind [Diamond] using my words as a comment on me,” Levine said during a July 30 press conference. “Really, what I worry about are the other LGBTQ individuals in the commonwealth who regularly face intolerance and harassment — and sometimes, as I mentioned, overt violence.”