January 19, 2021 at 12:15 pm PST | by Brody Levesque
Biden selects trans doctor Rachel Levine as assistant health secretary in historic first
Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine.
(Photo Credit: The Office of Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf)

WILMINGTON, Delaware – President-elect Joe Biden announced that he has nominated Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Health, Dr. Rachel Levine, to be the U.S. Assistant Secretary of Health in a historic first for Trans representation. Levine would be the first Trans person selected for a Senate confirmed position as an official in the federal government.

“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. She is a historic and deeply qualified choice to help lead our administration’s health efforts,” the president-elect said in a statement released by his transition team Tuesday morning.

Levine, who currently serves as Secretary of Health for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, had been confirmed previously by the state’s Republican-controlled senate to serve as Secretary of Health and the state’s physician general.

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf released a statement congratulating Levine’s nomination to serve as assistant secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.

“Dr. Levine is a highly skilled and valued member of my administration and she will be greatly missed.  […] During her tenure at the Department of Health, Dr. Levine was instrumental in establishing the state’s medical marijuana program, bringing national awareness to opioid use disorder, and highlighting and promoting the need for adequate medical care and access for the LGBTQ community. Over the past year, her steady hand and calm approach were critical to managing Pennsylvania’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Her work for our commonwealth has been transformational and I appreciate it more than I can say. I and the people of Pennsylvania owe her a debt of gratitude for her leadership, strength and dedication to protecting every person’s health amid unprecedented circumstances – and, at times, amid hateful distractions. Dr. Levine is both competent and compassionate, and never lets the anger or fear of others sway her from her goals.

Dr. Levine joined Governor Wolf’s administration in January 2015 as the Physician General of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and served from 2015 to 2017. She was named Acting Secretary of Health in July 2017 and confirmed as Secretary of Health in March 2018. Her previous posts included: Vice-Chair for Clinical Affairs for the Department of Pediatrics and Chief of the Division of Adolescent Medicine and Eating Disorders at the Penn State Hershey Medical Center.

Reaction from LGBTQ advocacy groups praised the president-elect’s selection.

“Her qualifications and professional experience make her an obvious choice for this position, but her life experience and visibility will inspire, and perhaps even save the lives of, countless young transgender people who face discrimination at every turn.”

“We are thrilled at the appointment of Dr. Rachel L. Levine as assistant secretary of the United States Department of Health and Human Services. As the Secretary of Health for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, a professor of pediatrics and psychiatry at the Penn State College of Medicine, and the President of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, and a graduate of both Harvard University and Tulane Medical School, Dr. Levine is an eminently qualified pick to serve in this key position in our government. She will also be the first Senate-confirmed official who is openly transgender. Her qualifications and professional experience make her an obvious choice for this position, but her life experience and visibility will inspire, and perhaps even save the lives of, countless young transgender people who face discrimination at every turn. said Lambda Legal’s CEO, Kevin Jennings

.As Pennsylvania secretary of health, Levine faced intense hostility from right-wing critics for her health restrictions and forced closures in Pennsylvania amid the coronavirus epidemic, but her policies were similar to those in other jurisdictions. The criticism was largely a manifestation of hostility towards her for being transgender, for which she was also explicitly criticized, the Washington Blade reported.

Amid consternation among LGBTQ advocates states weren’t collecting data early last year on sexual orientation or gender identity, Levine took the lead and announced in March 2020 her state would begin collecting the data, making Pennsylvania the first state in the country to collect LGBTQ demographic information on the coronavirus.

Annise Parker, CEO of the LGBTQ Victory Institute, said in a statement the United States is “fortunate to have Dr. Rachel Levine nominated for a position so important to ending this pandemic and her experience on the frontlines in Pennsylvania will prove invaluable as assistant secretary.”

“Her nomination is groundbreaking and shows the Biden administration will choose the most qualified individuals to lead our nation regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity,” Parker said. “Dr. Levine is making history and will transform Americans’ perceptions of trans people when she takes office and begins to work on their behalf.”

In Los Angeles, the LGBT Center reacted writing in a statement,

We are deeply gratified by the historic nomination of Dr. Rachel Levine as Assistant Secretary of Health by President-elect Joe Biden. Dr. Levine’s qualifications and experience—leading the fifth largest state during a public health crisis—are self-evident. Moreover, her appointment would bring a significant and desperately needed focus on access to health care for transgender people. Anti-LGBTQ legislation and administrative decisions were a hallmark of the Trump administration, and these actions have had a profoundly negative impact on the transgender community in particular. This nomination, if confirmed, is a historic step in addressing these issues.

“We are well aware that extremists will attempt to oppose her nomination simply because she is transgender. The Center joins other LGBTQ organizations and our allies to demand that Dr. Levine, given her impeccable qualifications for this post, be quickly confirmed by the Senate.”

Additional reporting from Chris Johnson

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