Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, Dr. Rachel Levine, the Pennsylvania Secretary of Health, has been integral to the decision-making process about what is and is not safe to do. She has also spoken at many press briefings, offering her expert opinion on the vital health and safety issues that are facing Pennsylvanians. Dr. Levine previously served as Pennsylvania’s Physician General, and has long been regarded as a “top doctor” in the state. She is also a trans woman.
There has been substantial debate about the necessity of shutting down schools, businesses, and more during the pandemic. Public officials making decisions about the wellbeing of Pennsylvania residents have faced a lot of anger and even protests. Some of this can be expected, as any politician or person in a public role may face criticism for the things that they say or do. When it comes to Dr. Levine, however, the criticism has crossed the line into outright transphobia.
The most recent example involved the Bloomsburg Fair, where organizers put together a dunk tank to raise money for local fire companies. The Fair then posted pictures on social media of a man in a dress and a wig inside of the dunk tank, with a caption of "Dr. Levine? Thank you. You were a hit and raised a lot of money for the local fire companies. Wonder why so many were trying to dunk you.”
Dr. Levine has been subjected to countless other transphobic attacks throughout the pandemic. A Pittsburgh radio host, Marty Griffin, repeatedly misgendered her during an interview. A city councilman in Trafford commented on Governor Tom Wolf’s Facebook post about Father’s Day using Dr. Levine’s birth name (known as “deadnaming”). Throughout the state, she has been subjected to transphobic attacks by business owners, local politicians, and people online.
A person may disagree with the actions taken by a public official. That is fair, and our right as American citizens. However, mocking a person’s identity or spewing hate at them is never acceptable. We reject transphobia in all of its forms.
Transphobia may include hatred, violence, aversion, anger, or discomfort that is felt or expressed towards people who do not conform to traditional gender roles. It is strongly linked with homophobia (a dislike of or prejudice against gay people), and is often rooted in misogyny (a hatred or disdain for women and all things feminine).
Gender roles — or norms — are the cultural expectations that a society has for people of a particular gender. For example, in the United States, traditional gender norms include men being strong, not showing their feelings, and being sexually aggressive. By contrast, women are expected to be nurturing, more emotional, and to be physically weak. These gender norms give the message that men should not act in a way that has traditionally been associated with women. That is why little boys are told not to cry, to man up, or that they throw like a girl — because they are expected to live up to certain masculine ideals, most of which are based on the notion that being feminine is bad. These gender norms can be harmful to men and women alike, leading to higher rates of physical and mental health issues, death by suicide for men — and violence against women.
When a person challenges these gender norms by living their lives as a trans, gender non-conforming or nonbinary person, they are often faced with an alarming level of hate, bigotry, and violence. Transgender people — and in particular, trans women of color — are too often murdered and subjected to violence. So far this year, at least 22 transgender people have been killed due to transphobia. While all trans people and anyone who does not conform to traditional gender roles may face hatred, trans women face the double whammy of transphobia and misogyny — which is known as transmisogyny. In other words, trans women experience both transphobia AND misogyny.
While our country has made strides towards LGBTQ equality in recent years, it still has a long way to go — particularly when it comes to treating transgender people with dignity and respect. The hatred aimed at Dr. Levine during this pandemic — not for her decisions as a public official but because she is a trans woman — are a powerful and public example of how much work there is to do.
As individuals, we can play a role in changing the conversation and stopping transphobia and misogyny. It can be as simple as speaking up when someone says or does something that is mocking or hateful, and making a commitment to never use transphobic language yourself. It can also include educating yourself about issues that affect the trans community, from respected sources like the National Center For Transgender Equality, the Human Rights Campaign and GLAAD.
Blackburn Center offers a range of services to ALL victims of violence, abuse, and crime. If you need help, our hotline is available 24 hours a day at 1-888-832-2272.