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Trump campaign adviser sparks criticism for misgendering Pennsylvania official

A Trump campaign adviser generated swift criticism Monday after sharing a tweet that misgendered Pennsylvania’s top health official, who is a transgender woman.

“This guy is making decisions about your health,” Jenna Ellis, a senior legal adviser to the campaign, said in a tweet referencing the official. The tweet included a link to a story from May in which Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Rachel Levine asked not to be misgendered after a reporter repeatedly called her “sir” during a press briefing. 

Levine is one of only a handful openly transgender people in public office in the United States.

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“Dr. Levine is laser-focused on assisting Pennsylvanians in the midst of a national pandemic,” Pennsylvania Department of Health spokesman Nate Wardle told The Hill. “She does not have time for this nonsense.”

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) denounced Ellis's comments as an attempt to dehumanize an official working to help combat the coronavirus pandemic.

“Jenna Ellis is a bigot and Dr. Levine is a patriot — plain and simple," HRC President Alphonso David said in a statement. "Dr. Levine illustrates character and patriotism while Ellis cannot even define those terms."

"Using a person’s pronouns is a basic level of respect," David added. "Despite claims of allyship, Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpVenezuela judge orders prison time for 6 American oil executives Trump says he'll leave White House if Biden declared winner of Electoral College The Memo: Biden faces tough road on pledge to heal nation MORE, Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceTrump set for precedent-breaking lame-duck period Trump pardons Michael Flynn O'Brien on 2024 talk: 'There's all kinds of speculation out there' MORE and their staff have gone out of their way to dehumanize and attack transgender and non-binary people simply for existing."

Ellis dismissed the criticism, saying in an email to The Hill that the Human Rights Campaign "thinks it can define character and patriotism while it apparently can’t even define male and female."

She also responded on Twitter after a Washington Post reporter included a screenshot of her comments next to a photo of a Trump campaign T-shirt including LGBT pride colors. 

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"I have a lot of pride too that Donald Trump is your President! Great shirt," Ellis said. 

Some on Twitter questioned whether Ellis's tweet applied to the platform's policies surrounding hate and abuse. Twitter bars slurs or content intended to degrade someone, including targeted misgendering of transgender individuals, according to its hateful conduct policy. 

The company did not immediately return a request for comment from The Hill. 

Levine was appointed as the Pennsylvania Secretary of Health by Gov. Tom WolfTom WolfTrump says he'll leave White House if Biden declared winner of Electoral College Trump cancels plans to attend Pennsylvania GOP event on election Biden-Harris ticket the first in US history to surpass 80 million votes MORE (D) in July 2017. In her position, she has led the state's efforts to respond to the current health crisis, which has led to a consistent barrage of attacks. 

Wolfe issued a statement condemning the attacks in July after a Pennsylvania carnival mocked Levine in a Facebook post.  

“The COVID-19 pandemic has brought hate and transphobia into the spotlight through relentless comments and slurs directed at Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine," Wolf said.

"Levine is a distinguished and accomplished public servant. She is committed to keeping Pennsylvanians safe and healthy, even those who direct hate-fueled attacks at her. I’m proud of the work she has done," he said.

Levine has also weighed in on the slurs targeted at her. She said in a news conference last month that the transphobia directed at her perpetuates "a spirit of intolerance and discrimination" against LGBT individuals.

Updated at 12:51 p.m.