Local Official Quits After Transphobic Attack on Pennsylvania Health Secretary

Scott Township Paul-G-Abel
Paul G. Abel resigned on June 17 a week after making a transphobic comment during a Scott Township, Pennsylvania Zoom meeting.

The vice president of a township Board of Commissioners near Pittsburgh has resigned in the wake of the outcry resulting from his bigoted attack on Dr. Rachel Levine, Pennsylvania’s secretary of health.

During a June 10 Zoom meeting of the Scott Township Board of Commissioners, Paul G. Abel voiced impatience about the pace at which the state was allowing the local area to reopen after mandated coronavirus restrictions.

“Well, I’ll tell ya, I am tired of listening to a guy dressed up like a woman,” Abel said. “I know how frustrated people are.”

Pittsburgh area township commissioner resigns after mocking Dr. Rachel Levine

As the state health commissioner, Levine has often served as the public face of the coronavirus policies of Democratic Governor Tom Wolf. When she assumed her post in 2017, she became one of the highest ranking out transgender public officials in the nation.

Dr. Rachel Levine, Pennsylvania’s health secretary.Reuters/ Daniel Shanken

Video of that statement quickly spread on social media, and by June 16 a petition signed by hundreds of local residents was delivered to the township manager’s office demanding Abel’s resignation. The petition, initiated by three Scott Township residents according to pghcitypaer.com, also called on the Board of Commissioners and other township officials to participate in diversity training regarding the LGBTQ community and for the passage of a local nondiscrimination ordinance.

On June 17, Abel threw in the towel. Though his letter of resignation expressed “regret” for his “insensitive” comment, he claimed he was being “sarcastic” and that his words were “not an attack on gender identity and there was no hatred or malice behind” them.

Noting his 50 years of experience as a marine and a Scott Township police officer, Abel said he would “hang in there” on the Board of Commissioners except that some of his critics had come to his home and “I cannot stand by and have my family subject to that type of anger and harassment.”

So in his non-apology apology, Abel steered the discussion away from the harassment he committed to harassment he claimed he was the victim of. Neat trick.

The citizens’ petition that called for Abel’s resignation also noted that his comment on Zoom “was not immediately addressed” by his fellow commissioners.

According to Pittsburgh’s CBS affiliate, the day after the Zoom meeting, one of those commissioners, Angela Wateska, said, “I was very surprised and it took me a while to process what he was saying. By the time I realized what he was saying, too much time had gone by, but honestly, I still should have said something.”

The same day, Scott Township Manager Denise Fitzgerald said a letter of apology, which she said all commissioners should sign, would be circulated on social media. The letter stated that the Board of Commissioners does not “condone” Abel’s statement and apologized for its members “not coming forward sooner.”

The entire board, including Abel, signed the letter.

Just last week, a transgender woman, Dominique Rem’mie Fells, was found murdered in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania’s other big city.