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Rand Paul criticized for questioning of transgender health nominee

Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulTim Scott sparks buzz in crowded field of White House hopefuls Sherrod Brown calls Rand Paul 'kind of a lunatic' for not wearing mask Overnight Health Care: WHO-backed Covax gets a boost from Moderna MORE (R-Ky.) is facing criticism for his questioning of one of President BidenJoe BidenBiden to meet with 6 GOP senators next week Arizona secretary of state gets security detail over death threats surrounding election audit On The Money: Five takeaways on a surprisingly poor jobs report | GOP targets jobless aid after lackluster April gain MORE’s health nominees, Rachel LevineRachel LevineBiden administration loosens restrictions on meds for opioid use disorder amid rise in deaths Overnight Health Care: All adults in US now eligible for COVID-19 vaccine | White House launches media blitz to promote vaccines White House launches media effort to promote coronavirus vaccines MORE, a former state health official who would be the first openly transgender federal official confirmed by the Senate.

Paul characterized gender-affirming care, including surgical treatments for transgender individuals, as “genital mutilation,” a description not supported by mainstream health care experts.

“It is really critical to me that our nominees be treated with respect and that our questions focus on their qualifications and the work ahead of us, rather than ideological and harmful misrepresentations like those we heard from Senator Paul earlier,” said Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurraySchumer 'exploring' passing immigration unilaterally if talks unravel Senate Democrats push Biden over raising refugee cap House passes bill to combat gender pay gap MORE (D-Wash.), the chairwoman of the Senate Health Committee, which considered Levine’s nomination Thursday.

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Levine was nominated to be the assistant secretary for health at the Department of Health and Human Services, a role that primarily oversees the agency's public health initiatives.

Levine, a pediatrician, previously served as the secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Health. While other senators questioned Levine on public health issues, including mental health and COVID-19, Paul focused on the treatment of transgender youth.

Paul specifically said Levine supports surgeries for transgender children, a misleading claim that has surfaced in conservative media and social media in recent days. 

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The World Professional Association for Transgender Health says genital surgery should not be carried out until patients reach adulthood. In 2015, Levine said during a public event that surgical treatment is not recommended before age 18. In 2017, she said there are "some procedures" that might be done before 18.

“Transgender medicine is a very complex and nuanced field with robust research and standards of care that have been developed,” Levine said to Paul, though she didn't specifically answer his question.

If she is confirmed, she added, she would be happy to discuss the standard of care for transgender individuals and minors.

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Paul also criticized the use of reversible puberty blockers, which can be used for adolescents experiencing gender dysphoria as a way to give them time before making more permanent decisions, like surgery, in adulthood.

Research has shown puberty blockers, which are reversible, can reduce suicidal thoughts in transgender adolescence. 

"Rand Paul chose devotion to anti-LGBTQ extremist groups over substance and the health of our nation  and does not deserve to hold public office,” said Ruben Gonzales, executive director of the LGBTQ Victory Institute.

“His remarks echo the talking points of the same organizations who said gay men deserved AIDS and that LGBTQ people should be criminalized. He explicitly attacked vulnerable trans youth for his own perceived political gain and it was a disgrace. Dr. Levine is an extremely qualified nominee whose experience can help America effectively tackle this pandemic, but he took this opportunity to give voice to hate groups instead."