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Dr. Rachel Levine makes history as first openly trans federal official to be confirmed by Senate

She will now serve directly under newly confirmed Secretary Xavier Becerra as the highest-ranking openly trans government official.

Dr. Rachel Levine makes history as first openly trans federal official to be confirmed by Senate
Cover Image Source: Rachel Levine testifies at her confirmation hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee on February 25, 2021, on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. (Photo by Caroline Brehman-Pool/Getty Images)

Dr. Rachel Levine became the first openly transgender federal official in the nation's history Wednesday when the Senate confirmed her as President Joe Biden's assistant secretary for health in the Department of Health and Human Services. According to NPR, the history-making vote was 52-48 in favor of Levine with moderate Republicans Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, joining the Democrats to back her confirmation. Levine — who was serving as Pennsylvania's secretary of health – will now serve directly under newly confirmed Secretary Xavier Becerra as the highest-ranking openly trans government official.


Praising Levine's experience and her work on Pennsylvania's COVID-19 response before the vote, Sen. Patty Murray — the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee chair —  urged her colleagues to support Levine's nomination. Calling her a "trusted voice" for Pennsylvanians on matters of the likes of opioid prescribing guidelines, health equity, and LGBTQ health care, Murray said: "Dr. Levine has been on the front lines of this pandemic, which is why she knows firsthand what our states and communities need from the Department of Health and Human Services." According to ABC News, she also highlighted the significance of Levine's confirmation for the transgender community.


"I've always said the people in our government should reflect the people it serves, and today we will take a new historic step towards making that a reality. I'm proud to vote for Dr. Levine and incredibly proud of the progress this confirmation will represent, for our country and for transgender people all across it who are watching today," she said. According to CNN, over the course of her illustrious career, Levine has written about the opioid crisis, LGBTQ medicine, medicinal marijuana, eating disorders, and adolescent medicine. She graduated from Harvard College and the Tulane University School of Medicine and completed her training in Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine at the Mt. Sinai Medical Center in New York City.


In a statement addressing her nomination earlier this year, she said that she is proud of the work she did to address health and LGBTQ equity issues in Pennsylvania. "I look forward to the opportunity to continue to serve Pennsylvanians, and all Americans, as part of the Biden administration if I am fortunate enough to be confirmed to this position," Levine said at the time. President Biden expressed great confidence in the health expert while announcing her nomination in January, stating that she will "bring the steady leadership and essential expertise we need to get people through this pandemic — no matter their zip code, race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability — and meet the public health needs of our country in this critical moment and beyond. She is a historic and deeply qualified choice to help lead our administration’s health efforts."


Levine's confirmation hearing last month included a series of combative questioning by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky, that mischaracterized trans people and compared gender-affirming surgeries to "genital mutilation." When the lawmaker demanded to know if Levine believes minors are capable of making "such a life-changing decision as changing one's sex" and should be able to make decisions to "amputate their breasts or amputate their genitalia," she responded by promising to meet and discuss transgender medicine with Paul, an eye doctor. 


"Transgender medicine is a very complex and nuanced field," Levine said. "We have robust research and standards of care that have been developed, and if I am fortunate enough to be confirmed as the assistant secretary of health, I look forward to working with you and coming to your office and discussing the particulars of the standards of care for transgender medicine." This wasn't the first time Levine has had to face transphobia in her line of work. Responding to transphobic attacks against her on social media last year, she vowed to remain focused on combatting the pandemic. "I have no room in my heart for hatred, and frankly I do not have time for intolerance," Levine said in a press conference in July. "My heart is full with a burning desire to help people, and my time is full with working toward protecting the public health of everyone in Pennsylvania. I will stay laser-focused on that goal."

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