Gov. Tom Wolf tweeted a strong rebuke Wednesday of a botched fundraising attempt at the Bloomsburg Fair, calling the episode a slur on state Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine
“Hate has no place in Pennsylvania. I’m calling on all Pennsylvanians: Speak out against hateful comments and acts, including transphobia, when you see them,” Wolf wrote in part.
I want to talk about the transphobic incident involving the Bloomsburg Fair.
This is the latest in a relentless series of vile slurs directed at Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine — a highly skilled and accomplished member of my administration.
— Governor Tom Wolf (@GovernorTomWolf) July 22, 2020
On Saturday, a man in a black and pink dress took his places at the dunk tank of the Fireman’s Relief Carnival at the fairgrounds.
Images of the episode were shared on the fair’s Facebook page with the comment, “Dr. Levine? Thank you. You were a hit and raised a lot of money for the local fire companies. Wonder why so many people were trying to dunk on you?”
The post has since been taken down.
Outrage exploded shortly thereafter. Facebook shut down reviews on the fair’s page because it was getting flooded with responses.
Fair officials attempted to apologize Tuesday. Video of the entire press conference can be seen on YouTube:
“We apologize to the whole community, any community that was offended by this,” Bloomsburg Fair President Randy Karschner said.
To hear Karschner tell it, the incident started out innocently.
“People took it the wrong way,” he said. “There was no discrimination intended at all, but that’s how it got perceived. … It was a good time until it hit social media.”
Despite what was written in the Facebook post, fair officials claim the man in the dress wasn’t pretending to be Levine specifically, but people at the carnival started saying he was.
Officials claim the man was dressed as Marilyn Monroe.
Monroe wasn’t famous for wearing glasses. Levine, Pennsylvania’s transgender Secretary of Health, does. The man in the images wears glasses.
Several northeastern Pennsylvania groups and individuals that advocate for LGBTQ issues spoke out against the incident.
The NEPA Rainbow Alliance released a statement about the apology.
“We understand that [Wednesday’s]apology by the Bloomsburg Fair was a first step in responding to the community’s outcry and criticism of their fundraising event and social media post,” the statement says. “However, the apology delivered by the Bloomsburg Fair’s representatives at today’s press conference failed to acknowledge the discriminatory and hurtful nature of their actions.”
The organization said the fair should review its fundraising methods and need to add diversity.
During the press conference, Brain Wawroski said there would be an opportunity to work with LGBTQ organizations.
“Maybe we can all learn something,” he said.
Here’s the full text of Wolf’s tweet:
“I want to talk about the transphobic incident involving the Bloomsburg Fair,” he said in a brief three-tweet thread. “This is the latest in a relentless series of vile slurs directed at the Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine — a highly skilled and accomplished member of my administration.
“Dr. Levine is a distinguished public servant. She’s committed to keeping Pennsylvania safe and healthy, even those who direct hate-fueled attacks at her. I’m proud of the work she has done in her five years serving Pennsylvanians, and especially during the COVID-19 crisis.
“Hate has no place in Pennsylvania. I’m calling on all Pennsylvanians: Speak out against hateful comments and acts, including transphobia, when you see them.”
The fair says its grounds – and any event held on it – are for everyone.
“These gates are open to everybody,” Karschner said. “We don’t discriminate against anybody. And anybody that maybe doesn’t think so, look at our history. Look in the back. Have you ever seen this before or problems like this before?”
In 2017, the fair came under fire because a vendor was selling swastika flags. The fair ended up banning the selling of Nazi flags.
Correspondent Patrick Abdalla covers Northeastern Pennsylvania for the Capital-Star. Follow him on Twitter @PaddyAbs.