HARRISBURG — A Pennsylvania legislator shared on Facebook an image mocking the appearance of the state’s recently departed health secretary, Dr. Rachel Levine, a transgender woman who has been nominated to serve in the Biden administration, and then offered a general apology Saturday.
State Rep. Jeff Pyle, a Republican from Armstrong and Indiana counties, said on Facebook that he “had no idea” the post mocking Levine “would be … received as poorly as it was” but that “tens of thousands of heated emails assured me it was.”
“I got my ass kicked,” Pyle said Monday. “It’s still being kicked.”
The fallout from Pyle’s post continued to mount. He said he’s as contrite as he can be.
“My perspective is this. I screwed up,” he told the Gazette. “And I’m willing to admit I screwed up and I’m sorry that I hurt people by screwing up and I won’t do it again. But I think people calling for my resignation are premature.”
Pyle weighed the outcry Monday from his office in the state capitol, while he said he and colleagues were drafting a series of bills to excuse liquor license holders from certain Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board rules during the pandemic.
“I owe an apology and I offer it humbly,” Pyle wrote Saturday on his Facebook page, not specifically apologizing to Levine or other transgender people, but later repeating an apology “to all affected.”
Levine has not commented. The state health department did not immediately respond to an email seeking a reaction to Pyle’s initial post or his apology.
Comments on his Facebook page had called for him to resign.
President Joe Biden tapped Levine a day before his inauguration be his assistant secretary of health, leaving her poised to become the first openly transgender federal official to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
Pyle, who was first elected in 2004, cited a conversation with the Democratic leader in the state House “who explained the error of my post.”
He stressed that he did not come up with the meme but merely shared it, though he said he should not have done so.
“From this situation I have learned to not poke fun at people different than me and to hold my tongue. Be a bigger man,” he wrote.
“It’s pretty discouraging right now; it’s pretty bleak,” Pyle elaborated Monday. “There’s thousands of people telling me what an (profanity) I am, and I’ll cop to it, I am an (profanity). But what I did compared to what they’re doing to me is not even close … it’s savage, man.”
Pyle again pledged that he’s finished with such posts on Facebook.
“I’m not going to be doing it again,” he said. “People want me to quit, but I’m not gonna do that. I’ve got a college I gotta build. That’s the end-all, be-all. Then when I’m done with that, maybe I’ll think of quitting. But not before then.”
Pyle, who was unopposed in November for his election to a ninth term in the state house, is being treated for cancer and recovering from a stroke.
Pyle wrote he would leave Facebook “soon” but was not resigning from his position and would focus on a Butler Community College project and the economic revitalization of Pennsylvania amid the COVID-19 pandemic.