Some political hot water reached the boiling point this week in an ongoing tiff between an outspoken Republican opponent of Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf and State Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine.
After months tolerating slurs involving her gender identity, Levine spoke out on Tuesday in response, ahead of a news conference on the spread of Covid-19 pandemic in her state. One day later, State Rep. Russ Diamond of Lebanon County, Penn., issued a statement that parroted Levine’s words, but he did so in defense of those — like him — who refuse to wear masks to prevent the spread of the deadly virus.
Diamond, who was elected to the statehouse in 2014, has openly criticized Levine’s order that requires most Pennsylvanians to wear a mask in public, except in rare cases of health concerns.
“Your actions perpetuate a spirit of intolerance and discrimination against unmasked individuals and specifically individuals like myself who are outspoken about it,” Diamond wrote on official House letterhead, repeating Levine’s remarks almost word for word.
The governor called on Diamond’s superiors in the Republican legislative caucus to censure the representative for mimicking Levine, calling it a “thinly veiled attack on the LGBTQ community,” according to the Pa Post.
“To equate any disrespect for those not wearing masks to the decades of disrespect, threats, and violence against our LGBTQ community goes far beyond the hallmarks of a decent society,” Wolf said in a statement. “For these actions to come from a legislator elected to fairly represent all his constituents is simply unforgivable.”
Two hours later, Diamond fired back with another statement that nearly quoted Wolf verbatim, but this time the lawmaker demanded Wolf fire Levine and then resign.
“Abhorrent, unlawful, political and deadly. These are the words that describe my disdain for Wolf’s actions, not just today but throughout the COVID-19 disaster emergency,” Diamond began, and then he used that word that is a signal to literally everyone in the LGBTQ community that the speaker is not a supporter: “lifestyle.”
“Secretary of Health Rachel Levine made a strong statement in defense of her lifestyle and condemned hatred and intolerance,” Diamond said in his statement. “I, of course, condemn all hatred and intolerance. However, I found it ironic that Levine fails to see that her own policies, and those of the governor, are creating similar hatred and intolerance across Pennsylvania.”
“I call on the governor to immediately resign, right after he dismisses Dr. Rachel Levine as secretary of Health for her horrendous performance as the top health official in the state, and her actions to rescue her own mother from the deadly setting of a personal care home without informing the rest of Pennsylvania of the dangers within.” Levine has said she did so only because her mother requested the move.
Asked to respond by Pa Post, Levine said Thursday Diamond’s remarks represented “another example of harassment against LGBTQ individuals.”
In separate statements to Pa Post, spokespersons for Pennsylvania House Speaker Bryan Cutler and Republican Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff said “discrimination in any form is wrong” but made no promise to either censure or defend Diamond.