Rachel Levine, 63, from Pennsylvania, has bee appointed as America’s assistant secretary of health (Picture: AP)
A doctor from Pennsylvania has become America’s first openly transgender official to be appointed to the very top of the US government. Rachel Levine, 63, has made history after winning confirmation from the Senate to be the nation’s assistant secretary of health.
The landmark vote in the US Senate, confirmed as 52-48 in Levine’s favor, means she has become the first transgender official to hold such a high-ranking federal role. Republican senators Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine joined all Democrats in supporting Levine.
Levine, who has worked as Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Health since 2017, is expected to oversee Health and Human Services offices and programs across the entire US.
She was nominated for the role by President Joe Biden in January, who cited her extensive experience when putting her forward.
Levine won confirmation from the US Senate this week (Picture: CNP / MEGA)
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’, Biden said.
Transgender rights activists have hailed Levine’s appointment as a historic and memorable breakthrough. A very small number of trans people have ever held high-level offices at the federal or state level.
The victory for Levine came at a time when transgender rights have come under attack from some Republican-run states in the US, such as the unprecedented wave of bills targeting transgender athletes and their ability to compete in sports.
Senator Rand Paul, a Republican from Kentucky, quizzed Levine about medical treatments for transgender young people – include hormone treatment and puberty blockers – during her confirmation hearing on 25 February.
Paul asked ‘Do you believe that minors are capable of making such a life-changing decision as changing one’s sex?’
Levine replied that transgender medicine ‘is a very complex and nuanced field with robust research and standards of care’.
A pediatrician, Levine was appointed as Pennsylvania’s health secretary by Democratic governor Tom Wolf in 2017 after winning confirmation by the Republican-majority Pennsylvania Senate.
However, Senator Pat Toomey, a Pennsylvania Republican, voted against Levine’s confirmation Wednesday.
Levine previously worked as Pennsylvania’s top health official (Credits: Reuters)
Toomey said: ‘In Pennsylvania, the pandemic struck seniors in nursing homes disproportionately hard compared to other states. This was due in part to poor decisions and oversight by Dr Levine and the Wolf administration.’
He also said an extended lockdown advocated by Levine ‘was excessive, arbitrary in nature, and has led to a slower recovery’.
A graduate of Harvard and of Tulane Medical School, Levine is president of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials. In the past she has written articles on the opioid crisis, medical marijuana, adolescent medicine, eating disorders and LGBTQ medicine.
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