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 TrumpJulian Castro knocks Biden administration over refugee policy Overnight Energy & Environment — League of Conservation Voters — Climate summit chief says US needs to 'show progress' on environment Five takeaways from Arizona's audit results MORE, Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PencePence says he hopes conservative majority on Supreme Court will restrict abortion access Federal judge to hear case of Proud Boy alleged Jan. 6 rioter seeking release from jail The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Dems attempt to tie government funding, Ida relief to debt limit 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 WolfPennsylvania AG sues to block GOP subpoenas in election probe Pennsylvania GOP authorizes subpoenas in election probe Former US attorney enters race for governor in Pennsylvania 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.