Levine Makes History As First Transgender Official Confirmed By Senate

Dr. Rachel Levine was confirmed by the Senate on Wednesday as Assistant Secretary for Health at the Department of Health and Human Services. Levine is the first openly transgender federal official to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate. The vote was 52-48, with two GOP Senators joining their Democratic counterparts in confirming her.

Levine, who is a graduate of Harvard and Tulane Medical School, has helped lead Pennsylvania’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. She previously served as the state’s physician general. After her nomination, Levine said she was proud of the work she’s done to address the Covid pandemic and opioid epidemic, fight diseases like HIV, prevent diseases through childhood immunization, and raise awareness of LGBTQ issues.

President Joe Biden had promised to appoint diverse candidates to public-facing roles throughout his Cabinet and staff. “Dr. Rachel Levine 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,” President Biden said at the time of her nomination. “She is a historic and deeply qualified choice to help lead our administration’s health efforts,” he added.

Levine’s gender identity came up during her nomination hearing when Kentucky Senator Rand Paul began his questioning by saying, “Genital mutilation has been nearly universally condemned.” He then went on to ask, “Dr. Levine, do you believe that minors are capable of making such a life-changing decision as changing one’s sex?” The question drew criticism from Democrats, who said the Republican senator had misrepresented gender confirmation surgery as genital mutilation.

“Transgender medicine is a very complex and nuanced field with robust research and standards of care that have been developed,” Levine responded to the senator’s question. “If I am fortunate enough to be confirmed as the assistant secretary of health, I will look forward to working with you and your office and coming to your office and discussing the particulars of the standards of care for transgender medicine.”

Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins were the two Republicans who voted with Democrats to confirm Levine. “The confirmation of Rachel Levine represents another important milestone for the American LGBTQ community,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said. “As transgender Americans suffer higher rates of abuse, homelessness, and depression than almost every other group, it’s important to have national figures like Dr. Levine who by virtue of being in the public spotlight will help break down barriers of ignorance and fear.”


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