Bloomsburg Fair criticized for ‘transphobic’ dunk tank mocking Dr. Rachel Levine, PA Secretary of Health
The Bloomsburg Fair is once again courting controversy with a Facebook post today containing photos of a dunk tank at the Fireman’s Relief Carnival on the fairgrounds last weekend. The photos appear to show a man wearing a dress that the LGBTQ community and their supporters say mock Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine and her gender identity.
The now-deleted post said, “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 post received heavy criticism in the comment section this morning before it was deleted, with commenters calling it “bigoted” and “transphobic.” Screenshots of the post are now going viral on social media, and other posts about the carnival on the official Bloomsburg Fair Facebook page are now flooded with comments further criticizing them and threatening to boycott the 165th fair, which is still planned to be held Sept. 25-Oct. 3 despite health concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic.
Scranton-based LGBTQ+ activist organization Queer NEPA made a Facebook post addressing the issue, 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.”
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
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.
UPDATE, JULY 20: Bloomsburg Fair officials have not addressed the current controversy on social media yet and did not respond to NEPA Scene’s request for comment, but they did issue a statement to WILK Newsradio that was made public just before 6 p.m.:
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.
UPDATE, JULY 21: 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 felt the officials were lying about their intentions:
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.