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August 10, 2020

Trump campaign adviser calls Pa. Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine 'this guy' in Twitter smear

Pa. Gov. Wolf says misgendering remarks from Jenna Ellis qualify as hate speech

LGBTQ Politics
Levine Ellis Twitter Office of Governor Tom Wolf/Flickr

Pennsylvania Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine, a transgender woman, was targeted in a tweet by evangelical advocate Jenna Ellis, a campaign adviser for President Donald Trump with a history of invalidating remarks against the LGBTQ+ community.

A senior legal advisor for President Donald Trump's reelection campaign attempted to stir transphobic feelings among her Twitter followers Monday when she misgendered Dr. Rachel Levine, calling Pennsylvania's health secretary "this guy" in a tweet about the coronavirus pandemic.

Jenna Ellis, an evangelical advocate who was hired by the Trump campaign last fall, disparaged Levine for seemingly no reason, referencing a months-old incident between Levine and a Pittsburgh radio host.

In May, radio host Marty Griffin of KDKA-AM repeatedly called Levine "sir" during a coronavirus press briefing. Levine, a transgender woman, corrected Griffin.

"Please don't misgender me," Levine said at the time. "It's really insulting."

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, who noticed Ellis' tweet on Monday, called her words "unacceptable."

Ellis has frequently disparaged and undermined the LGBTQ community in recent years.

Days after the deadly Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando in 2016, Ellis wrote in a blog post that she was "disappointed conservatives are acquiescing to the LGBT agenda."

Ellis also blasted the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark 2015 decision on marriage equality in her book, "The Legal Basis for a Moral Constitution," where she complained that homosexuality had become "morally validated openly through government recognition and social celebration."

Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David issued a statement Monday afternoon condemning Ellis' latest remarks about Levine. 

"Jenna Ellis is a bigot and Dr. Levine is a patriot — plain and simple," David said in a statement. "Dr. Levine illustrates character and patriotism while Ellis cannot even define those terms."

David also said the tweet is symptomatic of a larger problem in the Trump administration. 

“Using a person’s pronouns is a basic level of respect. Despite claims of allyship, Donald Trump, Mike Pence and their staff have gone out of their way to dehumanize and attack transgender and non-binary people simply for existing," David said. "Trump and his allies have refused to acknowledge the epidemic of violence transgender and gender non-conforming people face, attempted to strip away their access to health care, and blocked these patriotic Americans from openly serving in the military." 

A visible figure in Pennsylvania's COVID-19 response, Levine has been a frequent target of offensive comments and behavior in recent months.

In July, organizers of the Bloomsburg Fair faced heavy criticism and apologized after a dunk tank fundraising game used an impersonator of Levine. Wolf and Pennsylvania LGBTQ groups rebuked the fair in the wake of the incident, one of several that have occurred in Pennsylvania since March.

"Hate has no place in Pennsylvania, even in the smallest transphobic joke, action or social media post," Wolf said last month. "I’m calling upon all Pennsylvanians to speak out against hateful comments and acts, including the transphobia directed at Dr. Levine and all transgender people in our great commonwealth."

After Ellis' tweet, a Washington Post reporter pointed out that the Trump campaign is selling $30 t-shirts that profess to show support for the LGBTQ community. Ellis failed to see the conflict.

Through a spokesperson, the Pennsylvania Department of Health said Levine will continue to address the COVID-19 crisis in Pennsylvania. 

“Dr. Levine is laser-focused on assisting Pennsylvanians in the midst of a national pandemic,” the spokesperson said. “She does not have time for this nonsense.”