A Pennsylvania state lawmaker came under criticism for attempting to compare the transgender community to people refusing to follow guidelines against spreading the COVID-19 pandemic.
A statement from State Rep. Russ Diamond allegedly standing up for the “unmasked population” prompted Gov. Tom Wolf to urge Diamond’s fellow Republicans to censure Diamond on July 30 2020.
“There are no words that adequately describe my disdain for the antics Rep. Diamond displayed in his latest missive,” Wolf said in his own statement.
The uproar around Diamond began a day earlier, when he posted a release that intentionally mimicked remarks from state health director Dr. Rachel Levine addressing transphobic harassment directed at her. She said, in part:
The LGBTQ community has made so much progress under Governor Wolf and his leadership during his time in office, but I want to emphasize that while these individuals may think that they are only expressing their displeasure with me, they are, in fact, hurting the thousands of LGBTQ Pennsylvanians who suffered directly from these current demonstrations of harassment.
Your actions perpetuate the spirit of intolerance and discrimination against LGBTQ individuals, and specifically transgender individuals.
It is only one month ago that the Supreme Court prohibited discrimination in the workplace due to sexual orientation and gender identity, but LGBTQ individuals can still be denied housing, and public accommodations in most places in Pennsylvania, that do not have local nondiscrimination ordinances.
In addition, the most vulnerable among us continue to suffer, including LGBTQ individuals of color, LGBTQ youth, LGBTQ seniors, and LGBTQ immigrants. Transgender women of color continue to not only be harassed, but are more likely to suffer, violence, and even murder.
Diamond’s statement substituted the “maskless community” — in other words, those who refuse to wear face coverings in public settings amid a global pandemic — for LGBTQ Pennsylvanians:
I want to emphasize that while these individuals may think that they are only expressing their displeasure with me, they are, in fact, hurting the thousands of unmasked Pennsylvanians who suffered directly from these current demonstrations of harassment.
Your actions perpetuate the spirit of intolerance and discrimination against unmasked individuals, and specifically individuals like myself who are outspoken about it.
It is only one month ago that the Department of Health promulgated a mask policy which specifically included exemptions for medical conditions which do not need to be documented. But unmasked individuals still are being access to public accommodations in places in Pennsylvania that are not honoring those exemptions.
In addition, the most vulnerable among us continue to suffer, including unmasked individuals of color, unmasked youth and seniors, and unmasked immigrants.
Statement on Hateful Comments Toward Unmasked Community pic.twitter.com/uqrqZ7Tt6X
— Russ Diamond (@russdiamond) July 29, 2020
The state policy on the use of masks in public spaces does provide exemptions for respiratory issues as well as for mental health issues and people who need to read lips in order to communicate. But those opposing similar policies have taken to spreading disinformation claiming that masks themselves cause illness, or creating fake cards or “passes” they claim cover exemptions set forth by the American Disability Act and other legislation.
In rebuking Diamond, Wolf called his statement “Abhorrent, disrespectful, [and] dangerous” as well as an attack on Levine and LGBTQ communities.
“Virtually no thinking person disputes mask-wearing as an effective means to stop the spread of COVID,” the governor said in his statement. “Proud non-mask-wearers such as Rep. Diamond are not displaying their freedom, but rather their ignorance and lack of respect for themselves, their families, neighbors and communities when they don’t wear a mask, and are likely leading to more spread of this dangerous virus.”
Diamond responded online by calling on Wolf to fire Levine and then resign — while also falsely calling her gender identity a “lifestyle.”
“Secretary of Health Rachel Levine made a strong statement in defense of her lifestyle and condemned hatred and intolerance. I, of course, condemn all hatred and intolerance,” Diamond’s statement read. “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.”
Diamond has denied that he was intentionally mocking Levine, but he has not directly addressed whether he was comparing transgender communities with people willingly opposing face mask guidelines.
“The release accurately speaks to those who have attacked, maligned, and threatened me, as well as others, since I first questioned the ridiculous mask policy months ago,” he told the news outlet Spotlight PA. “Her policy allows for exceptions that apply to a lot of people, yet all we hear is ‘you MUST wear a mask.'”
For her part, Levine called Diamond’s statement “another example of harassment against LGBTQ individuals.”
“Never mind using my words as a comment on me,” she said during a press briefing in Lancaster. “Really, what I worry about is the other LGBTQ individuals in the commonwealth who regularly face intolerance and harassment and sometimes overt violence.”