HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania -- Pennsylvania health secretary Dr. Rachel Levine began her COVID-19 briefing Tuesday not speaking about the pandemic, but about acts of hate and the importance of acceptance.
"I feel I should personally respond to the multiple incidents of LGBTQ harassment and specifically transphobia directed at me that have been reported in the press," Levine said.
The health secretary, a transgender woman, said the people behind these acts are not just expressing their displeasure with her, but are also hurting the thousands of LGBTQ Pennsylvanians who suffer from these incidents.
"Your actions perpetuate the spirit of intolerance and discrimination against LGBTQ individuals and specifically transgender individuals," Levine said.
In one reported incident two weeks ago, a man in a dunk tank donned a blond wig, floral-print dress, and glasses during a weekend carnival held at the Bloomsburg Fair to benefit the region's volunteer fire departments. The fair posted a photo, name-checked Levine and said, "Wonder why so many were trying to dunk you."
The fair subsequently deleted the post and released a statement of apology, calling the impersonation a "disrespectful parody" and "serious lapse in judgment."
Levine said she accepts the apologies, if they are sincere. She said, however, an apology is just the beginning of the conversation.
She said there needs to be more than just tolerance, but acceptance of the LGBTQ community.
Last week, Gov. Wolf spoke out in support of Dr. Levine. He said Levine has been subjected to a relentless torrent of abuse throughout the pandemic.
"The derogatory incident involving the Bloomsburg Fair is the latest of these vile acts, which by extension impact Transgender people across the commonwealth and nation," he said.
Levine said she will continue to help people and will stay "laser focused" on protecting the health of everyone in Pennsylvania from the pandemic.
"I have no room in my heart for hatred and, frankly, I do not have time for intolerance," Levine said.
But the court's ruling does not cover people who work for smaller employers, and it does not extend legal protection against discrimination to housing or public services, LGBT rights advocates in Pennsylvania said.
Levine said the most vulnerable LGBTQ individuals also continue to suffer: those of color, youth, seniors, and immigrants.
"Transgender women of color continue to not only be harassed, but are more likely to suffer violence and even murder," Levine said.
"We have not made progress unless we have all made progress," she said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report