The U.S. Senate confirmed former Pennsylvania health secretary Rachel Levine as the nation’s undersecretary of health on Wednesday. She is the first openly transgender federal official to win Senate confirmation.
The final vote was 52-48. Republican Senators Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine joined all Democrats in supporting Levine.
Levine had served as Pennsylvania’s top health official since 2017 and emerged as the public face of the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. He is expected to oversee health and human services offices and programs in the US.
President Joe Biden cited Levine’s experience when he nominated her in January.
Levine “will bring the consistent leadership and essential expertise we need to help people overcome this pandemic, regardless of zip code, race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability,” said Biden.
Transgender rights activists have hailed Levine’s appointment as a historic breakthrough. Few trans people have held high-level positions at the federal or state level.
However, the confirmation vote came at a challenging time for the trans rights movement, as U.S. legislatures, primarily those under Republican control, are considering a wave of transgender bills. unprecedented law targeting trans youth.
One type of bill, introduced in at least 25 states, seeks to ban girls and young trans women from participating in girls’ school sports.
One such measure has already been signed into law by Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves, and similar measures have been sent to the governors of Tennessee, Arkansas and South Dakota.
Another variety of the bill, introduced in at least 17 states, seeks to prohibit or restrict certain types of health care for transgender youth. Neither of these measures has yet obtained final approval.
Sen. Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, confronted Levine about medical treatments for transgender youth, including hormone treatment and puberty blockers, during his confirmation hearing on February 25.
Paul asked: “Do you think minors are capable of making such a transformative decision as changing their sex?”
Levine responded that transgender medicine “is a very complex and nuanced field with solid research and standards of care” and said she would appreciate discussing the issues with him.
In the past, Levine has claimed that hormone therapy and drugs that block puberty can be valuable medical tools in saving some transgender youth from mental anguish and possible suicide risk.
A pediatrician and former Pennsylvania general practitioner, Levine was appointed Pennsylvania secretary of health by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf in 2017. She was confirmed by the Republican-majority Pennsylvania Senate.
However, Sen. Pat Toomey, a Pennsylvania Republican, voted against Levine’s confirmation on Wednesday.
“In Pennsylvania, the pandemic affected older people in nursing homes disproportionately compared to other states,” Toomey said. “This was due in part to poor decisions and oversight by Dr. Levine and the Wolf administration.”
He also said that a prolonged lockout advocated by Levine “was excessive, arbitrary in nature and has led to a slower recovery.”
A graduate of Harvard and Tulane School of Medicine, Levine is president of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials. He has written in the past about the opioid crisis, medical marijuana, teen medicine, eating disorders, and LGBTQ medicine.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism