Barrier-breaking transgender Biden nominee met with smears

Dr Levine, praised for leading Pennsylvania’s pandemic response, was deadnamed and misgendered after being nominated for assistant secretary of health

Related video: Biden overturns Trump's ban on transgender military service members

Dr Rachel Levine made history when President Biden announced her as his nominee for assistant secretary of health. If confirmed, she will become the first openly transgender federal official approved by the senate.

Dr Levine, a paediatrician, has been praised for her role in Pennsylvania's pandemic response as the state's secretary of health. GLMA, a group of LGBTQ health care professionals, called her record "exemplary" and said that she's "uniquely qualified to serve".

The Human Rights Campaign said: "At a time when access to health care is a growing crisis for transgender people made worse by anti-LGBTQ legislation and legislators across the nation, Dr Levine has the empathy to understand the health needs of our diverse country and the skillset to improve them".

Ohio Democratic Representative and 2020 presidential candidate Tim Ryan called her nomination "historic".

But apart from the praise, Dr Levine's nomination has also been met with a campaign of transphobic abuse from officials and media outlets on the right. Republican Pennsylvania State Representative Jeff Pyle mocked her appearance in a now-removed Facebook post.

Media manager at the National Women's Law Center Gillian Branstetter tweeted a screenshot of Mr Pyle's post:

The Facebook post received harsh criticism, with some calling on Mr Pyle to resign. He later said: “I owe an apology and I offer it humbly,” without specifically mentioning Dr Levine.

Read more: Follow live updates on the Biden administration

Ms Branstetter told NBC News that "the misogyny that goes after a trans woman for how she performs her femininity is the exact same misogyny that limits a cisgender woman".

Breitbart, the far-right media outlet, wrote an article about Ms Levine in which they used her former name, a practice known as deadnaming. They also repeatedly misgendered her. Watchdog Media Matters wrote that "misgendering, or referring to a trans person by a different gender than the one they identify with, is a form of harassment that dehumanizes trans people".

Ben Shapiro, a former editor at the conservative outlet The Daily Wire, tweeted on 19 January that "Levine is a biological man who believes he is a woman," and added the disproven criticism that "Levine shipped covid-positive patients back into nursing homes, and removed mom from a nursing home at the same time." 

Reports show that Dr Levine followed federal guidelines when approving elderly Covid-patients in Pennsylvania for transfer back to their nursing homes after being treated for Covid, and that she didn't remove her 95-year-old mother from a nursing home at the same time.

Fox News host Tucker Carlson, "an anti-trans extremist who regularly dehumanizes and spreads lies about trans people", according to Media Matters, said on his show on 19 January: “This is like the perfect encapsulation of everything I despise about neoliberalism. You're supposed to be thrilled by this person's sexual orientation or sex life or whatever, her personal life.”

Mr Carlson added that Dr Levine's nomination was “an effort to see how big a middle finger can we wag in the face of the country".

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