A Trump campaign adviser sparked outrage online Monday after sharing a tweet that intentionally misgendered Pennsylvania’s top health official, who is a transgender woman.
“This guy is making decisions about your health,” Jenna Ellis, a senior legal adviser to the campaign, said in a tweet referencing Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Rachel Levine.
The tweet included a link to a story from May in which Levine asked not to be misgendered after a reporter repeatedly called her “sir” during a press briefing.
Levine is one of only a handful of openly transgender people in public office in the United States.
“Dr. Levine is laser-focused on assisting Pennsylvanians in the midst of a national pandemic,” Pennsylvania Department of Health spokesman Nate Wardle told The Hill. “She does not have time for this nonsense.”
The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) denounced Ellis’s comments as an attempt to dehumanize an official working to help combat the coronavirus pandemic.
“Jenna Ellis is a bigot and Dr. Levine is a patriot — plain and simple,” HRC President Alphonso David said in a statement. “Dr. Levine illustrates character and patriotism while Ellis cannot even define those terms.”
“Using a person’s pronouns is a basic level of respect,” David added. “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.”
Ellis dismissed the criticism, saying in an email to The Hill that the Human Rights Campaign “thinks it can define character and patriotism while it apparently can’t even define male and female.”
She also responded on Twitter after The Washington Post’s Dave Weigel included a screenshot of her comments next to a photo of a Trump campaign T-shirt including LGBT pride colors.
“I have a lot of pride too that Donald Trump is your President! Great shirt,” Ellis said.
I have a lot of pride too that Donald Trump is your President! Great shirt! https://t.co/VENrkogH0d
— Jenna Ellis (@JennaEllisEsq) August 10, 2020
Many Twitter users questioned whether Ellis’s tweet violated the social media platform’s policies surrounding hate and abuse.
Twitter bars slurs or content intended to degrade someone, including targeted misgendering of transgender individuals, according to its hateful conduct policy.
Pennsylvania State Rep. Brian Sims (D-Philadelphia) responded to Ellis, tweeting: “This woman is a world-class public health expert who has been saving countless thousands of lives. I realize you may not know what that looks like. She’s also a hero to LGBTQ+ people like me and doesn’t deserve your scorn or mockery.”
This woman is a world-class public health expert who has been saving countless thousands of lives. I realize you may not know what that looks like. She’s also a hero to LGBTQ+ people like me and doesn’t deserve your scorn or mockery.
— Brian Sims (@BrianSimsPA) August 10, 2020
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D) issued a statement condemning the attacks in July after a Pennsylvania carnival mocked Levine in a Facebook post.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has brought hate and transphobia into the spotlight through relentless comments and slurs directed at Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine,” Wolf said.
“Levine is a distinguished and accomplished public servant. She is committed to keeping Pennsylvanians safe and healthy, even those who direct hate-fueled attacks at her. I’m proud of the work she has done,” he said.
Levine has also weighed in on the slurs targeted at her. She said in a news conference last month that the transphobia directed at her perpetuates “a spirit of intolerance and discrimination” against LGBT individuals.