A state representative from Philadelphia is asking fellow legislators to censure state Rep. Russ Diamond for “transphobic attacks” on the Secretary of Health.
State Rep. Brian Sims (D-182) on July 31 posted a memorandum announcing that, in “the very near future, I plan to introduce a Resolution to censure Representative Russ Diamond for his harmful attacks on the LGBTQ+ community and transphobic and undermining actions against Pennsylvania Secretary of Health, Dr. Rachel Levine.”
Sims said Diamond “has been spreading damaging misinformation as a proponent of not wearing a mask,” and acting to “minimize the danger of the coronavirus and undermine Secretary Levine’s life-saving health and safety orders in favor of reopening sectors of Pennsylvanian’s economy without thought to science, health or safety.”
“Most recently, Representative Diamond’s actions were especially harmful as he equated discrimination against non-mask-wearing Pennsylvanians to the historic discrimination felt by LGBTQ+ residents of the commonwealth,” Sims wrote in the memorandum. “His mockery of the disrespect and violence directed toward members of the LGBTQ+ community, and specifically of Dr. Levine, is unacceptable from a member of the House of Representatives.”
As of Tuesday afternoon, the pending resolution had 18 cosponsors, all Democrats.
The controversy emerged after remarks last week by Levine, who strongly denounced the many personal attacks against her.
“Our children are watching,” Levine said in a statement July 28. “They are watching what we do. And they are watching how we act, and to all LGBTQ young people, it is okay to be you, and it is okay to stand up for your rights, and your freedoms.”
The next day, Diamond posted a letter on official House stationery that copied the structure of Levine’s remarks almost verbatim.
“Your actions perpetuate a spirit of intolerance and discrimination against unmasked individuals and specifically individuals like myself who are outspoken about it,” Diamond wrote in the letter, which mimicked the language used by Levine to defend what he called the “unmasked community.”
On July 30, Gov. Tom Wolf called for Diamond to be censured over the remarks, calling them “abhorrent, disrespectful, dangerous” and “a thinly veiled attack on the LGBTQ community” and Levine, a transgender woman.
“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,” the governor said. “For these actions to come from a legislator elected to fairly represent all his constituents is simply unforgivable.”
Wolf also criticized Diamond for “spreading misinformation,” noting that “virtually no thinking person disputes mask-wearing as an effective means to stop the spread of COVID.”
Diamond has strongly discouraged people from wearing masks as a means of reducing the spread of COVID-19 and typically does not wear a mask at the state Capitol.
People, like Diamond, who refuse to wear masks “are not displaying their freedom, but rather their ignorance and lack of respect for themselves, their families, neighbors and communities,” Wolf said.
Diamond responded on July 30 in a statement that mirrored Wolf’s, calling the governor’s actions in response to the coronavirus “abhorrent, unlawful, political and deadly.” He said policies dictated by Wolf and Levine “are creating similar hatred and intolerance across Pennsylvania.” Diamond called on Wolf to fire Levine and resign.
Sims, in an Aug. 3 tweet, said he filed “articles of Censure” against Diamond last week “as his transphobic attacks on our Secretary of Health grew to unprecedented levels.”
Censuring a lawmaker doesn’t typically carry any consequences but acts as a public reprimand or condemnation of that legislator’s conduct.
Sims did not immediately respond to a request for further comment.
Matthew Duvall, the Democrat who hopes to unseat Diamond in the November election, acknowledge in an email Monday that “some will argue this is just more us-versus-them politics.”
“However, looking at the public response to the news stories last week, as well as the op-eds published locally in the last few days, it’s clear that many people found Representative Diamond’s actions offensive. I support the LGBTQ+ community and think, at the least, the Representative should apologize.”
LancasterOnline on Monday criticized Diamond for his words. “There is disgraceful, and then there is state Rep. Russ Diamond,” the newspaper wrote in an editorial, which said he is “dead-wrong” on mask wearing and “ignorant of the realities of gender identity” and called his satire of Levine’s letter “plain childish.”
Later that day, Diamond posted a “general and personal rebuttal to various individuals who have imagined that my recent statement regarding the unmasked community served as a ‘microaggression’ against the LGBTQ community.”
In the follow-up letter, Diamond said he doesn’t care if Levine is transgender or not, but “being transgender is not a vaccination against criticism for a public official. If Dr. Levine can’t tolerate opposition to her policies, perhaps she should consider a vocation in the private sector.”
Even as he praised Levine for using “admirable and strong” words to defend herself against detractors, he criticized the security for using a COVID-19 press conference “to defend or highlight transgenderism.”
Using her words against her, he said, is “an age-old debate strategy” used in this case to give voice “to the countless Pennsylvanians who simply cannot wear a mask.”
Diamond has suggested that it was Sims, not Wolf, who first raised the issue of censure as retaliation for an attempt to censure Sims last year.
House Resolution 387, which was cosponsored by Diamond, criticized Sims after the Philadelphia representative “recorded himself on video, on two separate occasions, verbally attacking individuals who were peacefully protesting at Planned Parenthood Southeastern Pennsylvania” and “posted these videos on social media.” The resolution said Sims brought “the House of Representatives into dishonor and disrepute.”
The resolution was never brought to a vote, according to House records. Sims later apologized for the incidents.
“I highly doubt that was the Governor’s idea,” he wrote. “I have no doubt Sims planted the ridiculous notion of censuring me in the Governor’s mind.”
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