Story at a glance
- Former Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Rachel Levine was confirmed to serve as the Assistant Secretary for Health for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
- She most recently helmed Pennsylvania’s COVID-19 response.
Another Biden Cabinet nominee made history with their confirmation, as Rachel Levine becomes the first openly transgender official to win a Senate nomination.
Her confirmation hearing occurred Wednesday evening, clinching the nomination in a 52-48 vote.
Dr. Rachel Levine. It is a joy to see your skill and brilliance honored today. At a time when trans healthcare is under attack in statehouses across the country, your vision and visibility is vital. Congratulations.https://t.co/1Zhg5DvWwK
— TransgenderLawCenter (@TransLawCenter) March 24, 2021
A doctor who served as the secretary of health for Pennsylvania and professor of Pediatrics and Psychiatry at the Penn State College of Medicine, Levine focused on helping alleviate the opioid epidemic in the Keystone State while simultaneously advocating for the LGBTQ+ community. Eventually, this role shifted to focusing on the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Dr. Rachel Levine’s confirmation as Assistant Secretary for Health at @HHS_ASH is a historic moment for everyone in this country – especially the LGBTQ+ community,” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra wrote on Twitter. “She is a dedicated public servant and a tireless advocate for public health. I am thrilled to welcome her to @HHSGov.”
Levine was nominated by President Biden in January, who praised her qualifications.
“Dr. Rachel 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,” Biden said in a statement. “She is a historic and deeply qualified choice to help lead our administration’s health efforts.”
Shortly after the public announcement of her nomination, Levine issued a statement saying that she was “proud” of the work she and her department have done to fight diseases like HIV and hepatitis C in Pennsylvania, along with her LGBTQ+ community outreach efforts.
“I look forward to the opportunity to continue to serve Pennsylvanians, and all Americans, as part of the Biden Administration if I am fortunate enough to be confirmed to this position,” she wrote in January.
Other humanitarian organizations, including the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), applauded Levine’s successful appointment, calling it a “historic, inspiring day for the LGBTQ community.”
“At a time when transgender children are under attack by state legislatures across the U.S., and access to healthcare is systematically threatened for transgender and gender non-conforming people, Dr. Levine has the compassion and understanding to improve the health needs of our diverse and growing population,” HRC President Alphonso David stated.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D), under whom Levine served, congratulated her following her confirmation hearing.
“Pennsylvania owes a great deal to Dr. Levine’s expertise and leadership, both before and after the pandemic,” he said. “The nation is lucky to have her strength, experience and compassion in such a key role in the Biden Administration.”
Wolf had previously defended Levine against transphobic remarks in 2020 as she worked to lead the state through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Data from 2016 suggests that about 0.6 percent of the U.S. population identifies as transgender — amounting to roughly 1.4 million adults.