SHARON, Pa. (WYTV) – Pennsylvanians are used to hearing about Dr. Rachel Levine when hearing about COVID-19 in the state, but now she’s getting attention for who she is.
Dr. Levine is Pennsylvania’s health secretary. She’s been at the forefront of Covid-19 efforts but has also been the brunt of comments about her identity.
Levine is openly transgender. She was appointed by Governor Tom Wolf in 2015 but has been a more public figure in the state since the pandemic.
Sharon resident Kevin Ulatowski is a moderator for the Mercer County LGBTQA+ Facebook group.
He says he has overheard comments in Mercer County directed at Dr. Levine’s identity as a transgender woman.
“All they’re doing is making fun and making comments that are disrespectful of her gender and things of that nature,” Ulatowski said.
Sarah Rosso is with the Hugh Lane Wellness Foundation, which works to improve the well-being of the LGBTQ+ and HIV communities in Western Pennsylvania. She says the comments about Levine have not had much to do with her role as health secretary and are more personal.
“People are open and free to have public discourse around what are the best choices to keep Pennsylvanians safe and healthy during this pandemic, but there is a difference between that and directing those comments to the way that she looks,” Rosso said.
Others who work with the local LGBTQ community agree with Rosso. Alex Tatangelo is a nurse practitioner at Central Outreach Wellness Center. He said those attacking Levine are spreading hate.
“It is not always the responsibility of the LGBTQ community to teach cis (cisgender) heterosexual people like myself how to be an ally,’ Tatangelo.
Coley Alston, who is also affiliated with Hugh Wellness Center, said that changing behavior begins at home and that there are plenty of resources to educate anyone about the transgender community.
“There are tons of books and authors. There are Ted Talks. I would use those resources before you run up to a trans person and ask them to tell me about your experiences,” Alston said.
Rosso, Tatangelo and Coley all continue to support Dr. Levine for her work and dedication to keeping Pennsylvania safe – no matter her identity.