Political Issues

Assistant Health Secretary Rachel Levine Is Simply the Best Person for Job—Here’s Why

Erin Bunch

Photo: Getty Images / Pool / W+G Creative
The United States Senate voted Wednesday to confirm former Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Rachel Levine, MD, as Assistant Secretary for Health at the Department of Health and Human Services. Her appointment is historic in that Dr. Levine is the highest-ranking openly transgender government official in American history.

In her new role, Dr. Levine will oversee national public health policy. While this promises to be a big job in the midst of a global pandemic, Dr. Levine brings impressive experience managing Pennsylvania’s COVID-19 response. Upon her appointment, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf praised Levine’s achievements in his state. “Dr. Levine was a valued member of my administration and served the people of Pennsylvania with wisdom, courage and dedication as Physician General and Secretary of Health,” Wolf said in a statement. “I was proud to serve alongside her. Dr. Levine’s commitment to protecting the public health and safety is unmatched, and I am grateful for her tireless work during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Dr. Levine comes to the job with an extensive background in medicine. A graduate of Harvard College and the Tulane College of Medicine, Dr. Levine’s career began as a pediatrician at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City. Prior to serving as Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Health, she was the state’s unanimous choice for physician general. Additionally, Dr. Levine has served as a professor at Penn State College of Medicine, covering topics such as transgender medicine and eating disorders, among others.

According to President Joe Biden, Dr. Levine is uniquely qualified to meet the needs of the day. In a statement made around her nomination, the president noted that Dr. 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.”

Not all were easily sold on Dr. Levine’s appointment, however. The confirmation vote fell largely across party lines, and was won by a narrow margin of 52-48. It took place at a contentious moment in the fight for transgender rights, which the previous presidential administration endeavored to roll back. Currently, state legislatures across the country are weighing an unprecedented amount of anti-trans legislation, most of which specifically targets the community’s youth. One such type of bill, for example, seeks to exclude transgender girls from participating in scholastic sports. Another attempts to restrict or eliminate certain types of medical care for transgender individuals.

In a statement, Dr. Levine did not shy away from her commitment to serving the transgender community in her new position. In fact, she addressed transgender individuals directly, vowing to support and advocate on behalf of the community, with a specific emphasis on the protection of transgender youth.

For this reason, LGBTQ+ organizations have come out in support of the Dr. Levine’s new position, acknowledging that not only is she qualified for the role outside of her identity as a transgender individual, but also that her appointment will—as President Biden stated—potentially expand federal public health efforts to be more inclusive.

“Dr. Rachel Levine’s confirmation as Assistant Secretary of Health is a testament to her experience and credentials as a medical professional, and to her unwavering commitment to public health and equality,” says GLAAD president and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis. “As she has throughout her career, Dr. Levine will show the world that transgender people lead, serve and contribute the kind of visibility and recognition that will save and inspire LGBTQ lives. In her historic role, Dr. Levine will open doors for health and for acceptance as she helps our country both heal, and grow.”

In her statement, Dr. Levine also acknowledged the historic significance of this appointment. “As Vice President Harris has said, I recognize that I may be the first, but am heartened by the knowledge that I will not be the last,” she wrote. “When I assume this position, I will stand on the shoulders of those who came before—people we know throughout history and those whose names we will never know because they were forced to live and work in the shadows.”

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