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Gov. Tom Wolf Says 'Hate Has No Place' In Pa. Following Fair's Dunk Tank With Dr. Rachel Levine Impersonator

HARRISBURG, Pa. (KDKA/AP) — Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf is defending his secretary of health after a fair was criticized as transphobic for having a Dr. Rachel Levine impersonator.

Over the weekend, the 165-year-old Bloomsburg Fair posted a photo of a man in a dunk tank who had donned a blond wig, floral-print dress and glasses. The dunk tank was part of a weekend carnival held on the fairgrounds to benefit the region's volunteer fire departments.

"Dr. Levine? Thank you you were a hit and raised a lot of money for the local fire companies. Wonder why so many were trying to dunk you," said the Bloomsburg Fair Association's post, which included a smiley-face emoji.

The fair deleted the post from its Facebook page, but critics slammed the dunk tank impersonation and the fair association's comment as transphobic. U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, a Democrat, and other politicians issued statements of condemnation.

On Wednesday, Gov. Wolf released a statement, saying:

"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, who is a highly skilled, valued, and capable member of my administration and Transgender. The derogatory incident involving the Bloomsburg Fair is the latest of these vile acts, which by extension impact Transgender people across the commonwealth and nation.

"Dr. 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 in her five years serving Pennsylvanians, and her success at leading our commonwealth during the COVID-19 crisis is a testament to her intelligence and work ethic.

"Hate has no place in Pennsylvania, even in the smallest transphobic joke, action or social media post. I'm calling upon all Pennsylvanians to speak out against hateful comments and acts, including the transphobia directed at Dr. Levine and all Transgender people in our great commonwealth."

At a press conference Tuesday afternoon, Levine said she had read about the story.

"My only reaction is that I am going to stay -- no matter what happens -- laser-focused on protecting the public health in Pennsylvania," she said.

In a written statement, the fair said that Levine's likeness was used to raise money for fire departments whose fundraising has been hampered by COVID-19, and had nothing to do with her gender identity. The statement pointed out she's a public figure.

Fair officials subsequently held a news conference Tuesday and apologized, saying they meant no harm.

"I'm kind of tired that people think this is still funny," said Morgan Faeder from the Persad Center.

"It's definitely important for people who have the ear of the public, and who have power, the governor of the state, to be speaking up for trans people," Faeder added.

The Press Enterprise newspaper of Bloomsburg identified the man in the dunk tank as Main Township Fire Chief David Broadt, who told the newspaper he did not set out to impersonate Levine — he said he was "going for a Marilyn Monroe look" — but decided to play along once he got into the dunk tank and people started saying he resembled Levine and shouting, "Where's your mask?"

Rafael Álvarez Febo, executive director of the Pennsylvania Commission on LGBTQ Affairs, also released a statement on Wednesday on behalf of the commission:

"The leadership of the Bloomsburg Fair knew they were catering to Transphobic sentiments when they chose to impersonate Dr. Levine. Marginalized communities know when we are being targeted and will not be gas-lit into thinking this was just about Dr. Levine's position as Secretary of Health. In times of crisis and pain LGBTQ individuals are united in pushing back against Transphobia of any kind. Commissioners believe that the health and safety of Pennsylvanians should not be undermined due to these toxic and personal attacks."

(TM and © Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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