Senate confirms Rachel Levine, now top transgender official in US government, as Assistant Secretary of Health


On Wednesday, the Senate voted to confirm former Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Rachel Levine as the new Assistant Secretary of Health at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Levine’s confirmation is historic: she is now the highest openly transgender government official in U.S. history.

In his new role, Levine will lead the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Health (OASH), which oversees the national public health policy. She will be a key figure in the administration as the White House tackles the worsening Covid-19 pandemic that has claimed the lives of more than 500,000 Americans. But she will also play an important role in overturning a host of Trump-era policies on reproductive, adolescent and LGBTQ health. As a trained pediatrician with a history of evidence-based adolescent health support, and who has spoken of her own locked up trans youth, her confirmation marks a dramatic shift from the right. political activists appointed to OASH under former President Donald Trump.

Due to the historic nature of Levine’s appointment, there has been a lot of talk about his trans identity. Meanwhile, his qualifications, which should not be overshadowed, have taken a back seat. For the past three years, she has served as the Pennsylvania Health Secretary, where she led the state’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. His lucid press conferences telling Pennsylvanians how to survive the pandemic earned praise from Democrats inside the state. Before becoming secretary of health, she was a general practitioner in the state.

Levine frequently takes a holistic approach to politics, telling philadelphia magazine last July how she conceptualizes public health. “The economic opportunity is health. A living wage with an increase in the minimum wage is actually health, ”she said. “Improving educational opportunities, improving nutrition, improving the environment, improving transport for people is health. Getting rid of racism is health.

Following the appointment of President Joe Biden, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf called Levine “a highly qualified and valued member of my administration.”

“She has been a wise and dedicated partner during this pandemic and throughout her career with the Commonwealth”, Wolf said in a statement. “I could not be more proud of the tireless work she did to serve the Pennsylvanians and protect public health.”

Levine’s confirmation would be important, if only because she would instantly become a recognizable and authoritative trans voice in public health at a time when access to trans health care is increasingly under threat in the world. world. With Biden explicitly taking a pro-trans stance, Levine takes a visible role in charge of federal youth health policy.

“This marks a real turning point that honors and includes trans people,” Molly Bangs, director of Equity Forward, an HHS watchdog group, told Vox of Levine’s appointment in January. “She has given all the indications that she will continue to focus on fairness from all points of view during her ascension to the federal office. Young transgender people need quality health care and access to information more than ever. She has shown that this is truly the cornerstone of what drives her career.

Levine takes over key federal public health office at pivotal moment

His most immediate application as Assistant Secretary of Health is likely to help manage the federal government’s handling of the pandemic.

But beyond the pandemic, she will take over a department that has undergone sweeping changes under Trump. The Bureau of Women’s Health and the Bureau of Population Affairs oversee most of the government’s reproductive health initiatives. Obama’s transition to Trump saw the rejection of progressive initiatives in favor of anti-reproduction policies, including the rescinding of Obamacare’s birth control mandate.

Meanwhile, the Office of Adolescent Health, which administered the teenage pregnancy prevention program, was directed to watch another office and essentially closed under Trump. One of Levine’s first accomplishments in Pennsylvania was the establishment of the State Office of Adolescent Health, and she will now be responsible for restoring that office at the federal level.

“This post of Assistant Secretary of Health has a huge portfolio of issues,” Bangs said. “Dr. Levine and his colleagues will have their work cut out for them, and they will need a truly proactive agenda to not only repair the damage that has been done, but also to protect and expand LGBTQ rights. [and] sexual and reproductive health [access]. “

This work will start almost immediately. Even before Levine’s confirmation hearing was scheduled, the Biden administration took the first steps to reverse Trump’s OASH policies. The White House has already launched a review of Title X’s domestic gag rule – which prohibited federal funding for health clinics that perform or refer patients for abortions.

Levine’s office will oversee the review, placing her at the center of U.S. reproductive health policy for the next several years.

Levine won’t be the first openly trans government official

Despite being highly qualified for the job, Levine’s trans identity has garnered the lion’s share of media attention.

Newspapers and websites have trumpeted her identity, almost to the exclusion of anything else about her. “Biden chooses first transgender person for Senate confirmed position,” reads Title of the associated press in January. Even the LGBTQ nation big title – “Joe Biden chooses a transgender woman as assistant secretary for health” – did not mention Levine’s name.

While Levine is now the highest transgender government official in the federal government, a welcome step forward for a community that historically has had very little institutional power, she is not the first openly trans government official appointed by a president; it is only the first to be confirmed by the Senate. President Barack Obama named trans woman Amanda simpson senior technical adviser to the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security in 2010, although this was not a Senate-confirmed appointment.

Levine’s trans identity will inform his new role as one of the country’s top public health officials. “At a time when access to healthcare is a growing crisis for transgender people, compounded by anti-LGBTQ legislation and lawmakers across the country, Dr. Levine empathizes with understanding the health needs of our diverse country and the skills to improve them. Said Alphonso David, president of Human Rights Campaign, said in a press release.

Levine has previously spoken about his experiences as a locked up trans child. At a conference in 2015, just after being appointed Pennsylvania’s interim general practitioner, she described growing up playing football and hockey near Boston in the 1960s, but also with a deep secret. “All I knew was that I wanted to be a girl, or I was a girl or a woman” she told a crowd in Swatara Township, Pennsylvania.

During this conference, Levine spoke directly to trans youth in the state. “What I want to tell these kids is that I’m here for you. We are here for you, ”she said. “Please don’t hurt yourself or despair, because we are here for you.”

It’s a message she continued to champion throughout her career in public health, even as critics and random internet trolls relentlessly attacked her gender identity and appearance. And she’s making history at a time and place where trans “firsts” are increasingly scarce – a date that’s as much a victory for trans people as it is for a well-trained doctor with a life of life. public health experience.


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