Pennsylvania's Transgender Health Secretary Derails Coronavirus Briefing: Stop Calling Me 'Sir'

Pennsylvania Health Secretary Rachel Levine, who is transgender, told a local radio host to stop "misgendering" her during a Tuesday press briefing about the coronavirus outbreak. 

The Pittsburgh talk show host, Marty Griffin, was one of about 70 reporters who participated in the phone call with Levine, according to the Pittsburgh City Paper. Griffin called Levine "sir" at least three times before correcting himself and saying "ma'am."

Levine did not object to being misgendered at first. But when Griffin asked her about her department's controversial regulation of nursing homes during the pandemic, she referred back to his earlier offenses. 

"So please don't misgender me," she said. "It's really insulting."

"I'm so sorry," Griffin said. "I apologize. It's not malicious. I apologize. I'm so sorry."

After the incident was reported in the media later in the day, Griffin issued a public apology on Twitter, saying, "I was not focused. I was doing six things at once."

Nonetheless, Pittsburgh Mayor Tim McNulty quickly responded by canceling a scheduled interview with another host at Griffin's employer, KDKA Radio. He said in a tweet that he would not support the "behavior" of KDKA, which he accused of being "shock-jocks, sensationalism & worse."

Levine, who transitioned from male to female years before joining state government in 2015, has faced criticism for her handling of the coronavirus outbreak.

Bigger problems: Pennsylvania has lately become a hot zone in the culture war over how to respond to the outbreak. Gov. Tom Wolf on Monday accused Republican critics of his lockdown order of military-style desertion. 

Levine has also came under fire for her department's policies, especially the March requirement that elderly care facilities accept patients discharged from the hospital after being treated for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. Nearly 70 percent of the state's more than 4,000 deaths attributed to the coronavirus have occured at such facilities. 

State Sen. Doug Mastriano, a Republican, on Monday called for Levine to resign over the issue. 

Following Levine's phone call with the press on Tuesday, ABC27 reported that she had helped her mother leave an elderly home in Pennsylvania. 

“My mother requested, and my sister and I as her children complied to move her to another location during the Covid-19 outbreak,” Levine said at a press conference on Tuesday. “My mother is 95 years old. She is very intelligent and more than competent to make her own decisions.”
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