2020 Bloomsburg Fair canceled due to ‘concern for the health and safety of our community’
Following a series of controversial decisions this month, the Bloomsburg Fair Association announced today that the 2020 Bloomsburg Fair has been canceled.
The 165th Bloomsburg Fair was one of the only events of its kind this year that had not been canceled yet due to health and safety concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic. Board members said this was the reason for the cancellation and made no mention of the Fireman’s Relief Carnival held on the fairgrounds on July 17-18 or the dunk tank incident at the carnival that sparked outrage from the LGBTQ community and their supporters last week.
The official statement reads:
In these uncertain and ever-changing times, the board members of the Bloomsburg Fair Association found it necessary to gather and interpret vast amounts of information regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. Any decision that will ultimately affect thousands of people and an entire region should not be made casually. Each year the Fair is responsible to our 1,100 vendors, thousands of exhibitors, many local artists, our generous sponsors, and the families that enter our gates in search of education, fun, and memories that last a lifetime.
After much deliberation, local community concerns and concerns from local government, the board has made the decision to cancel the 2020 Bloomsburg Fair. This was a very difficult decision, but our concern for the health and safety of our community outweighs our desire to host this years fair. The Bloomsburg Fair Association is committed to the overall well being of the entire region, and we do not wish to put anyone in jeopardy in order to open our gates. We will, instead, take this time to make improvements, train staff, and look to the future.
We are already busy planning the 2021 Bloomsburg Fair, which will be full of exciting opportunities for our visitors. Many entertainers have already agreed to perform on our Grandstand stage in 2021, new and impressive free entertainment is planned, many innovative surprises will delight families, and, of course, all of our traditional food, livestock, and educational opportunities will be available for all to experience at our 2021 Bloomsburg Fair, to be held from September 24 through October 2. So, although many in our community will miss the fair, we look forward to providing a safe, secure, and healthy event next year!
On Monday, July 20, the official Bloomsburg Fair Facebook page posted photos of a dunk tank at the Fireman’s Relief Carnival that showed a man wearing a dress with the caption, “Dr. Levine? Thank you. You were a hit and raised a lot of money for the local fire companies. Wonder why so many trying to dunk you :). Thanks everyone that came out to support our local fire companies.”
The photos, which were directed at Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine, received heavy criticism in the comment section before it was deleted, with commenters calling it “bigoted” and “transphobic,” saying they mocked her because she is a transgender woman. Screenshots of the post soon went viral on social media, and other posts about the carnival on the fair’s Facebook page were flooded with comments further criticizing them and threatening to boycott the fair. All posts related to the carnival have since been deleted.
The Bloomsburg Fair Association did not respond to NEPA Scene’s request for comment, but they did issue a statement to WILK Newsradio later that day:
On behalf of the Bloomsburg Fair, we are responding to a series of inquiries and comments regarding using the likeness of an individual dressed as Dr. Rachel Lavine (sic) in a dunk tank at the Columbia Montour County Fireman’s Relief Carnival. The sole purpose of the dunk tank, which was operated by the Bloomsburg Fair, was to utilize the likeness of a public figure in an effort to raise monies for local fire companies. The fundraising activities of such organizations have been greatly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and the governmental restrictions which have been imposed, accordingly, our intention was simply an effort to raise money to assist these organizations. At no time was it the intention of the Bloomsburg Fair, anyone affiliated with the Fair, including any sponsors of the Carnival, to knowingly utilize the likeness of Dr. Lavine in a dunk tank as any form of commentary on Dr. Lavine’s transgender identity. The Bloomsburg Fair and the sponsors of the event do not endorse any comments which arose subsequent to the event which disparage Dr. Lavine’s transgender identity or any other discriminatory comments.
The next day, Bloomsburg Fair officials held a press conference to apologize for the incident and continued to claim that the dunk tank and Facebook post were not aimed at Levine’s gender identity, though a large portion of commenters disagreed and said the officials were lying about their intentions. Others dismissed the incident as a “joke” and did not seem to find it in poor taste:
In addition to serving as the Secretary of Health for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Levine is also a Professor of Pediatrics and Psychiatry at the Penn State College of Medicine and a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine, and the Academy for Eating Disorders as well as the President-Elect of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials. She joined Governor Tom Wolf’s administration in 2015 as the Physician General, was named Acting Secretary of Health in July of 2017, and was confirmed as the Secretary of Health in March of 2018, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health.
Levine has led the state’s public health response to COVID-19, putting her in the public spotlight regularly during press briefings and live streams with Wolf. She is one of the few openly transgender government officials in the country.
Today, Levine addressed the issue of transphobia directed at her in a statement but did not specifically mention the Bloomsburg Fair:
I feel that I must personally respond to the multiple incidents of LGBTQ harassment and specifically transphobia directed at me that have been reported in the press. I would first like to sincerely thank Governor Wolf for his continued support and comments last week. The LGBTQ community has made so much progress under Governor Wolf’s leadership during his time in office.
But I want to emphasize that while these individuals may think they are only expressing their displeasure with me, they are in fact hurting the thousands of LGBTQ Pennsylvanians who suffer directly from these current demonstrations of harassment. Your actions perpetuate a spirit of intolerance and discrimination against LGBTQ individuals and specifically transgender individuals. It is only one month ago that the Supreme Court prohibited discrimination in the workplace due to sexual orientation and gender identity. But LGBTQ individuals still can be denied housing and public accommodations in most places in Pennsylvania that do not have local nondiscrimination ordinances.
In addition, the most vulnerable among us continue to suffer including, LGBTQ individuals of color, LGBTQ youth and seniors, and LGBTQ immigrants. Transgender women of color continue to be not only harassed but are more likely to suffer violence and even murder. We have not made progress unless we have all made progress. It is in this space that these acts of intolerance live and where we need to continue to work against intolerance and discrimination.
To the perpetrators of these actions, if your apologies are sincerely given, then I accept your apologies. But an apology is the beginning, not the end of the conversation.
I call on you, and all Pennsylvanians, to work towards a spirit of not just tolerance but a spirit of acceptance and welcoming towards LGBTQ individuals. We all need to foster that spirit of acceptance and welcoming to LGBTQ individuals and celebrate the wonderful diversity of our commonwealth. Our children are watching. They are watching what we do and they are watching how we act. To all LGBTQ young people, it is OK to be you. It is OK to stand up for your rights and your freedoms.
As for me, I have no room in my heart for hatred and frankly I do not have time for intolerance. My heart is full with a burning desire to help people and my time is full with working towards protecting the public health of everyone in Pennsylvania from the impact of the global pandemic due to COVID-19.
On July 20, Scranton-based LGBTQ+ activist organization Queer NEPA made a Facebook post addressing the fair incident, saying, “Once again, we’d like to emphasize that we stand in solidarity with Dr. Rachel Levine as she and the rest of the PA state government handle COVID-19. Bigotry like the Bloomsburg Fair displayed by mocking Levine has no place in our community. Trans people are people. Likewise, we are thankful for the efforts of all the medical professionals on the front lines amidst this global pandemic. These are hard times and hate ain’t helping anyone.”
NEPA Rainbow Alliance board member Justin Correll offered his opinion that day as well, which was shared publicly on the LGBT+ group’s Facebook page:
Bloomsburg Fair (Columbia County) shared these photos from their offensive fundraising activity focusing on the pandemic and the highly decorated Dr. Rachel Levine. There is no way for them to state that this was a slip of the keys or accidentally clicking post. This was a fully thought out episode of a clear lack of judgment, criticizing both personally & professionally a well-respected medical professional and all out display of hate. This bigotry is clearly not an accident as the post and multiple pictures from the event are depicted.
Unfortunately, the lack of conviction to be a supportive and open organization that holds one of the largest fairs in Pennsylvania, should have known how this would resonate with supporters and vendors of their event. As it must have also caught the attention of others, the post was only on Facebook for an extremely limited time (and removed), but the damage was done. The organizers should reevaluate the method of fundraising, spreading offensive photos & words and most importantly make sure that if you are representing hundreds of vendors (who support your event buy purchasing a spot) and patrons through the gates… that you aren’t offending them as well.
Personally speaking, I have attended the fair yearly as long as I can remember. I have met and become friends with several kindhearted and open-minded businesspeople at the fair looking to continue to assist local schools, organizations, and non-profits through their own businesses. I know that my stance of no longer giving you my $13 (parking & admission) won’t make a difference in your pocket – if I never attend the fair again – but it will eventually will hurt the vendors you accept payment from… and ultimately represent as the organizers.
If you feel that this public representation of the Bloomsburg Fair is unacceptable as well – this is the kind of transphobic, disgusting behavior that needs to be called out and stopped. Feel free to message their administration through their Facebook page, call them at 570-784-4949 or send mail to 620 West 3rd Street, Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania.
Also Bloomsburg Fair Organizers – I have a large group of people who are willing to help educate you on the do and don’ts of Facebook, the way to be a good human, and most importantly how not to offend anyone that you want money from. Let us know! #hugthehaters
The Bloomsburg Fair has received public criticism for promoting bigotry before. In 2016, a photo of a Bloomsburg Fair vendor displaying a Nazi flag quickly went viral as it hung directly across from a flag promoting Donald Trump for president.
Another photo showing a display of bumper stickers from the same vendor featured a series of offensive slogans, the most prominent being one that read “AIDS cures fags.”
Bloomsburg Fair President Paul Reichart issued a statement after the photos spread around social media and backlash increased:
We were initially unaware of the flag and other merchandise being displayed by a vendor on our fairgrounds. Most posts were made after midnight, and as soon as we were made aware of it early this morning, we took the appropriate action with the vendor to remove those items. Unfortunately, we have over 1,200 vendors on our fairgrounds and it’s difficult to monitor each one individually. Whenever someone brings something like this to our attention, we always discuss it with the vendor and take any steps to maintain a family-fun atmosphere at our fair.
As the story continued to spread, Philadelphia Magazine caught up with the vendor, Lawrence E. Betsinger, and questioned him about the flag, which he said was “a historical German flag,” not a Nazi flag.
“I’ve been doing this shit for 45 years,” Betsinger said. “I can’t see where it would be some tragic thing just because somebody bitched and moaned about it.”
After the fair confiscated the Nazi flags as well as some of his Confederate flags, he mentioned that he also has “Hillary for President” and “Hillary for Prison” flags, selling some of the prison flags and “exactly zero” of the pro-Hillary flags. There was no mention of the “AIDS cures fags” sticker.
“If you don’t want it, don’t look at it,” he continued. “I’m not making anybody buy it. I guess there’s no First Amendment at the Bloomsburg Fair.”
Initially, the fair allowed Betsinger to continue selling his wares after the offensive items were removed, but his stand was eventually removed completely after it was reported by NEPA Scene that he is also a registered sex offender.
According to an article published by The Indiana Gazette on Nov. 10, 2015, Betsinger, who was 71 at the time, was charged by state police on Sept. 13 with failure to comply with registration of sexual offender requirements, harassment, and disorderly conduct, offering only brief details:
Police investigated a report that Betsinger had failed to report a change of address. During the investigation, police found that he was still living at the same address, but he had acquired a new vehicle which he failed to report. Upset over the investigation, Betsinger came to the state police barracks, Indiana station, and confronted an officer in a threatening manner, according to documents. Betsinger waived his right to a hearing and opted to face action in Indiana County Court.
According to homefacts.com, Betsinger is a registered sex offender for distributing “obscene and sexual materials” and was convicted on Dec. 7, 2007. He has been listed on Pennsylvania’s Megan’s Law sex offender website since 2008, where his temporary address was 620 W. 3rd Street in Bloomsburg, the same address of the Bloomsburg Fair.