State Rep. Jeff Pyle, a conservative Republican from Western Pennsylvania, is facing calls on social media for his resignation and censure from colleagues for a Facebook post mocking the appearance of recently departed Health Secretary Rachel Levine, a transgender woman who has been nominated to serve in the Biden administration.
Pyle, 56, who was first elected in November 2004, issued an apology on his now-deactivated Facebook page but said he would not resign.
“A few days ago I copied and shared a meme,” he wrote. “I had no idea it would be ... received as poorly as it was. Tens of thousands of heated emails assured me it was.
“I owe an apology and offer it humbly,” he wrote, not specifically apologizing to Levine or other transgender people, but later repeating an apology “to all affected.”
Pyle did not respond to a request made through a spokesperson for a comment. Levine has not commented.
President Joe Biden has tapped Levine to 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 has been a vocal critic of Pennsylvania’s shutdowns to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. His Facebook post about Levine drew angry responses on social media sites.
Philadelphia State Rep. Brian Sims tweeted what he labeled a reprimand and called on House Republican leadership to act, saying, “As Co-Chair of the LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus I have conferred with my colleagues, members Caucus & the Democratic leadership, and all are in agreement that this discriminatory & dangerous behavior by state @RepJeffPyle must be condemned by House Republican leadership.”
“Homophobia and transphobia have no place in the General Assembly or in our commonwealth,” Sims wrote. “The kind of discrimination & hatred displayed by Rep. Pyle are a direct violation of the public trust afforded to him as a member of the General Assembly.”
In May, Pyle was among a group of House legislators who supported a bill calling for an end to COVID-19 business shutdowns. He was one of 10 state lawmakers who wrote a letter that month asking Gov. Tom Wolf to move certain counties, including his Armstrong County, from the red phase of lockdown to the less restrictive yellow phase.
He said he did not come up with the offensive post on his own but had merely shared it, though he said he should not have done so.
“From this situation I have learned not to poke fun at people different from me and to hold my tongue. Be a bigger man,” he wrote.
Levine became the state’s health secretary in 2017. Since the emergence of COVID-19 she has become a regular presence explaining the state’s response. She previously served as the Pennsylvania physician general from 2015 to 2017 and is among a handful of openly transgender government officials in the United States.
Instead of resigning, Pyle said he will focus on a Butler Community College project and the economic revitalization of Pennsylvania amid the pandemic, among other things.
Associated Press reporting contributed to this article.