The Jewish Healthcare Foundation joins Gov. Wolf in calling out the demeaning jokes and bigotry directed at Dr. Rachel Levine, the secretary of health here in Pennsylvania. Dr. Levine is an accomplished pediatrician and honorable public servant, and she has been a valuable partner of the Jewish Healthcare Foundation in working toward the health of all Pennsylvanians. Hate has no place in our community, and the events at the Bloomsburg Fair — the latest in a growing list of transphobic comments and acts — must be recognized as callous acts of intolerance.
During a time of so much unrest over inequity and injustice, in addition to the demands on our statewide leadership to guide Pennsylvania during this pandemic, we must stand together against the recent disparaging acts and any transphobia and anti-transgender sentiments.
Hate and intolerance in any form, even wrapped in humor, are toxic to our society. As a health foundation, we regard hate and intolerance as diseases that damage people from within. When adults choose hate over kindness and respect, they present a harmful model for their children and grandchildren. Kindness and respect for all — for those who are disabled, who look or worship differently, who live different lifestyles or prefer different partners — are essential to everyone’s mental health and well-being. The ramifications of violating such essential virtues will haunt our society and the individuals who perpetuate this discrimination.
The recent cruel mockeries performed by the Bloomsburg Fair and some of its participants are unacceptable and must be recognized as toxic bigotry toward Dr. Levine and the transgender community. These events serve as a reminder that transphobia remains a powerful threat to the health and safety of transgender Pennsylvanians, and that we must address the ongoing high rates of discrimination and violence against the transgender community.
According to the Human Rights Campaign, most of the 157 transgender or gender-nonconforming people killed since 2013 were Black women and only nine of these cases were investigated as hate crimes. Too often, anti-transgender violence occurs in areas without substantial nondiscrimination protections and is ignored by society at large. These horrifying statistics clearly illustrate the need for preventative action against the violation of moral laws that govern a humane society.
The federal administration’s recent decision to roll back protections and access to health care for transgender people allows the continuation of discrimination against transgender people, rather than condemning and protecting against discrimination as leadership should. Transgender Americans currently face barriers to access quality, equitable care, and every healthcare interaction will come with uncertainty, even in emergencies. Under the current policy, transgender patients could even be denied lifesaving care.
This action is out of step with the national movement to respect and protect people who seek to live in their true identity. Although laws and policies vary from state to state, our country has made hopeful strides towards protecting transgender residents. Most recently, the Supreme Court’s June 15 landmark decision on the 1964 Civil Rights Act granted workplace protections to LGBT employees. Pennsylvania has also made recent progress, with Gov. Wolf’s 2016 executive orders protecting LGBT state employees and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission’s work to investigate cases of sexual orientation or gender identity discrimination beginning in 2018.
Without policies that secure basic civil rights and access to medical care for our transgender colleagues, friends, and neighbors — on top of the continuing public acts of mockery and intolerance like we’ve seen against Dr. Levine — we will continue to be victim to huge setbacks in our country’s progress toward a welcoming and inclusive society. Right now, we’ve seen a new upsurge in this intolerance in the U.S. This is dangerous for all of us who worship differently, who might look, learn, and engage in life differently. It’s a mental health issue; an ethical issue; a safety issue.
To prevent the loss of life, health, and safety due to discrimination, the federal administration must reinstate essential health care protections for transgender residents. Public officials across the nation must also call out and correct the upsurge of intolerance running through public discourse, and model virtuous behavior and speech that is imbued with respect. We must all recognize how important it is to address bigotry and protect transgender rights as human rights if we are to right our course in building a more equitable society.
We applaud Dr. Levine for taking the high road to focus on the pandemic in the midst of this distraction, but we ask all Americans to call out this toxic mockery and stand with the transgender community. PJC
Karen Wolk Feinstein is president and CEO of the Jewish Healthcare Foundation.