City Councilman David Oh sparked a Facebook firestorm last week by sharing an article from a far-right website about Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s support of gender-confirmation surgery.
Along with linking to the article from OneNewsNow.com, which is backed by the American Family Association, a conservative Christian group, Oh noted that he voted against a law approved by Council in 2013 that ensured that municipal employees’ gender-confirmation surgeries would be covered by insurance.
“Sen. Warren wants taxpayers to fund gender change surgery. Did you know Philadelphia taxpayers already fund this for city workers?” Oh wrote. “I didn’t believe the taxpayers should pay for sex change surgery and continued medical care when the city says it doesn’t have enough money to fund it’s most basic responsibilities."
After comments got nasty from both sides of the issue, Oh said Monday, he deleted the original post and wrote another to explain the deletion. But then the comments got out of hand on the second post and he deleted it as well, he said.
“I was expecting it to be an insightful discussion on where we are in health care and, well, it was anything but that. It started out with very angry people and very hurt people,” Oh said. “The site became ugly pretty quick, to the point where I decided there was nothing constructive going on there.”
Daye Pope, organizing director with the national political group Trans United Fund, said it was unfortunate that an elected official would share an article questioning the legitimacy of gender-confirmation surgery, which gives trans people the physical appearance and functional abilities of their gender.
“David Oh fell into a habit that several conservative politicians around the country have fallen into, which is not fully comprehending that transition-related care has been classified by health professionals around the world as necessary health care,” Pope said. “This type of care is lifesaving and life-changing for trans and nonbinary people.”
Oh holds one of two at-large Council seats that are effectively reserved by the Home Rule Charter for candidates outside the Democratic Party and that have been held by the GOP for almost 70 years. The progressive Working Families Party, which is running two candidates to challenge the GOP’s hold on the seats, pounced on the Facebook episode, saying it showed Oh was out of touch with Philadelphia voters.
“David Oh has shown yet again why the GOP has no place in our government," the party, which is supporting community organizer Kendra Brooks and pastor Nicolas O’Rourke in the Nov. 5 election, said in a statement. "He recently declared that the city should roll back health-care coverage of gender affirmation surgery, all while sharing propaganda from a right-wing fake news site.”
Oh said he stumbled on the article in his Facebook feed and didn’t know anything about OneNewsNow.com, which describes its content as “your latest news from a Christian perspective." The American Family Association, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled a hate group, has been criticized for numerous offensive remarks on its media products about LGBT issues and race.
“Never saw it before. Things just pop up,” Oh said about the site.
Oh said he opposes using taxpayer money for gender-confirmation surgeries because it takes it away from other priorities.
“Are we going to have truly universal health care, everything’s covered for everybody? I personally don’t believe that we can, but I’m not saying we can’t. Therefore, we have either some things covered or we have everything covered somewhat," he said. "And the issue that I was looking at for conversation was: How do you determine what is covered and what is not?”
The law Oh voted against in 2013 was authored by then-Councilman and current Mayor Jim Kenney. Democrat Bill Green and Republican Brian J. O’Neill joined Oh on the losing side of the vote.
“I have learned that you cannot have these types of discussions on Facebook," Oh said. "Why I thought you could, I don’t know.”
Staff writer Chris Brennan contributed to this article.