Rachel Levine makes history as she becomes first trans person confirmed by Senate for key post

Dr Levine’s confirmation as assistant secretary is being hailed by LGBTQ rights groups

Namita Singh
Thursday 25 March 2021 12:13
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<p>File Image: Rachel Levine, nominee for Assistant Secretary in the Department of Health and Human Services, testifies at her confirmation hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee 25 February 2021 on Capitol Hill in Washington DC</p>

File Image: Rachel Levine, nominee for Assistant Secretary in the Department of Health and Human Services, testifies at her confirmation hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee 25 February 2021 on Capitol Hill in Washington DC

The Senate on Wednesday confirmed Dr Rachel Levine as assistant secretary for health in the Department of Health and Human Services, making her the first openly transgender federal official to win the body’s confirmation.

The final tally was 52-48 with Republican senators Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins joining the Democrats supporting her.

Dr Levine, who served as the secretary of health in Pennsylvania from 2017 to January this year, emerged at the face of public health response on Covid-19 in the state.

While nominating her in January, president Joe Biden cited her experience and said 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.”

Dr Levine also received words of encouragement and support from Senator Patty Murray prior to voting as she urged her fellow lawmakers to support the nomination.

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“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.

The move was hailed as historic by human rights bodies as the confirmation vote for Dr Levine comes at a time when legislatures across the country are considering a number of bills that targets the rights of young trans people.

“History made,” the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ civil rights organisations, tweeted. “Trans people are leaders, innovators and change-makers – and we deserve a seat at every table.”

Twenty-eight states introduced bills that prevent trans children and women from playing scholastic sports with one in Mississippi becoming law earlier this month. Tennessee and Arkansas have both passed the ban and are now awaiting signatures from the governor.

While serving as health secretary of Pennsylvania, Dr Levine was also the target of “relentless comments and slurs” which were aimed at her gender identity.

Dr Levine during her nomination hearing was attacked by Republican Senator Rand Paul who asked her, if she believed that minors are “capable of making life-changing decisions as changing one’s sex?”

At the time, Dr Levine sidestepped the question and responded broadly to the Senate saying “transgender medicine is a very complex and nuanced field with robust research and standards of care that have been developed.”

She went on to add that she would “be pleased” to answer questions about puberty blockers and transitioning in minors in the future if confirmed by the Senate.

In past, she has publicly expressed her support for puberty blockers and hormone therapy being used for minors, saying that it can help alleviate mental stress and prevent possible self harm.

“A new study has found that #Transgender youth with access to a puberty blocker have decline in chances of suicide + #mentalhealth problems now and in the future. This study is important because it’s the first to show this specific association,” she wrote in a tweet.

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