Normally, state troopers accompany Pennsylvania’s second lady whenever she leaves the house. But on Sunday, when Gisele Barreto Fetterman realized it was her last chance to get golden kiwis on sale at her neighborhood grocery store, she decided to run out for a few minutes on her own.
While she waited in line, she said, a woman recognized her as the wife of Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, D, and began yelling insults at her, including racist slurs.
“She said, ‘There’s that [racist slur] that Fetterman married. You don’t belong here. No one wants you here. You don’t belong here,'” Fetterman, who was born in Brazil, said in an interview with The Washington Post.
Upset and shaken, Fetterman managed to film the woman accosting her again outside her car. She posted a video of the abuse to Twitter Sunday night, along with a description of what happened.
Fetterman, 38, said she has been threatened and insulted before, but never in person. “The fact that she was so comfortable and bold to just do it to my face with an audience . . . that was really scary,” Fetterman said.
The attack on Fetterman comes as political tensions have reached a boiling point in Pennsylvania, with both President Donald Trump and his Democratic opponent, former vice president Joe Biden, targeting the state as the single most important battleground in next month’s elections.
Fetterman said that the state troopers are investigating the incident. State lawmakers condemned the incident and expressed their support for Fetterman.
“Today at the grocery store, PA’s Second Lady @giselefetterman was subjected to a racial slur and taunts. As she said: ‘this hatred is taught.’ It’s on us to teach our children kindness, acceptance and inclusion, and condemn hate whenever and wherever we see it,” Sen. Robert Casey Jr., D-Pa., wrote on Twitter.
Fetterman said she is no stranger to abuse, especially because of her background as an undocumented immigrant. Just before she turned eight years old, Fetterman’s family fled a violent neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro for New York City, where they lived undocumented for more than a decade. She said her experience Sunday was a reminder 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, who got her green card in 2004, married John Fetterman in 2007, two years after he was elected mayor of Braddock, Pa. She became a U.S. citizen in 2009. Her husband, a bald, 6′ 8″, tattooed Democrat, became lieutenant governor in 2019. As second lady, Fetterman has been an advocate for the arts and the LGBTQ community.
The incident on Sunday happened after 5:30 p.m., when Fetterman traveled to an Aldi’s around two miles from her home in Braddock. As she waited in a check-out line with her kiwis, she said a woman began circling the aisle and pointing and yelling at her, repeatedly calling her a racist slur.
“I was just kind of frozen in that moment,” Fetterman said. “I was shaking. I was so nervous.”
A customer standing behind her asked if she was OK and offered to walk her to her car after she paid. Since the woman who had verbally attacked her was still shopping, Fetterman decided to just leave.
But when Fetterman began backing out of her spot, the woman came toward her car, again spewing racial slurs. Fetterman grabbed her phone and recorded the woman pulling down her purple face mask and using a racist epithet.
“It was shocking,” she said. “It took me a really long time to process it. It was just really, really sad.”
In tears, Fetterman called her security detail, apologized for going to the store without them, recounted what happened, and sent them a picture of the woman’s license plate. A little less than an hour after the incident, Fetterman posted the video on Twitter.
“I love love love this country but we are so deeply divided,” she wrote, adding, “This behavior and this hatred is taught. If you know her, if she is your neighbor or relative, please, please teach her love instead.”
Fetterman said she worries people are feeling more emboldened to spread bigotry because of President Trump, who has pushed to amplify racism and sometimes engaged in racist verbal attacks on his political opponents.
“I think when you have leadership at such a high level that is so openly saying such hateful things, I think that people follow in that example or feel that it’s OK to do so,” Fetterman said.
Fetterman noted that she is lucky to usually have police protection and said she worries more about her community, which is majority Black.
“My neighbors are living through this and so many of our residents are having experiences like this,” Fetterman said. “No one should have to feel unsafe anywhere.”