Gov. Wolf Tears into Racist Attack on PA Second Lady Gisele Fetterman as ‘Shameful and Unacceptable’

Second Lady Gisele Fetterman speaks with the press outside of the York County YMCA on Aug. 13, 2020. Gov. Tom Wolf, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, Second Lady Gisele Fetterman and Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine visited the York County YMCA to announce the findings of the Wolf Administration’s COVID-19 Response Task Force for Health Disparity. (Flickr/Office of Gov. Tom Wolf)

By Patrick Abdalla

October 12, 2020

“Gisele Fetterman spends much of her time devoted to making our state and world a better place and she—and every Pennsylvanian—deserves our respect,” Wolf said.

Gov. Tom Wolf strongly condemned a racist verbal assault on Gisele Barreto Fetterman, the wife of lieutenant governor John Fetterman, this weekend at a grocery store. 

“The ethnic intimidation and racist speech spewed at the Second Lady of Pennsylvania is shameful and unacceptable,” Wolf said in a statement. “Racism and hate speech are always unacceptable, and unworthy of Pennsylvanians.”

Wolf went on to say that no Pennsylvanian should ever feel unwelcome in the commonwealth because of their race or ethnicity.

“Gisele Fetterman spends much of her time devoted to making our state and world a better place and she—and every Pennsylvanian—deserves our respect, not the hatred too often displayed by people who seek only to further divide this country at a time when unity is so desperately needed,” Wolf said.

 “The Second Lady has my and Frances’s full support and gratitude for her tireless work to make Pennsylvania the diverse, inclusive place it is today, even in the face of such ignorance and adversity.”

This is the second time this year that Wolf has had to publicly defend someone close to his administration.

In the spring, Wolf spoke up against attacks on Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine, who is a transgender woman.

Fetterman shared a video of the verbal assault on her social media accounts on Sunday.

“I love love love this country but we are so deeply divided,” she said. “I ran to the local grocery store and was met by and verbally assaulted by this woman who repeatedly told me I do not belong here.”

Fetterman said the woman, who repeatedly used a racial slur, followed her to her vehicle in the parking lot, where she recorded the video.

“This is taught, right, so she was taught this,” Fetterman said Monday. “So I just hope that she’s not influencing children or grandchildren, influencing the next generation.”

Fetterman, 38, who was born in Brazil, identifies as Latina. Her family left Brazil for the US just before she turned 8, and they lived here undocumented for more than a decade.

She told The Washington Post that the verbal attack on Sunday reminded her of how she often felt growing up.

“It was a really long time of really living in the shadows and being really scared of every knock at the door,” she said. “To then being at a place where I’m so grateful that I can vote and that I get called for jury duty and I can finally belong to this country that I love so much — to then having these moments where I completely feel unwelcome all over again and scared.”

Fetterman got her green card in 2004, married John Fetterman in 2008, and became a US citizen in 2009.

Gisele Fetterman is a well-known activist in her community.

In 2012, Fetterman founded the Free Store, a volunteer-driven organization that takes surplus and donated goods and distributes them at no cost to families in need. Other Free Stores have since cropped up around the state.

Three years later, she co-founded the 412 Food Rescue, an organization that takes food grocery stores and restaurants would normally throw away and distributes it to individuals and families who are experiencing food insecurity.

In 2017, Fetterman co-founded For Good PGH, an organization focused on initiatives that promote diversity and inclusion in the Pittsburgh area. For Good PGH’s initiatives include The Hollander Project, a business incubator and co-working space for women; Hello Hijab, which makes and sells small hijabs for Barbies and other dolls that are about the same size, as a means of exposing young girls to the hijab; and Foster Good, an initiative that provides personalized suitcases for children in the foster care program.

Since she became Second Lady of Pennsylvania, Fetterman has been an advocate for the arts and the LGBTQ community.

Fetterman is normally accompanied by a state trooper when out in public for security, but on Sunday she was not while making a quick run to pick up fruit at the store.

Fetterman said people identified the woman in comments on her Facebook page, and some said they had had similar experiences with the woman.

“I know that I wasn’t the first person on the receiving end of this hate from her but I hope to be the last,” she said Monday.

A state police spokesman said he was unsure of the status of any investigation and offered no immediate comment.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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