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Biden's pick for assistant health secretary is about to make history

Dr. Rachel Levine could be the first openly transgender person ever confirmed by the Senate.

By Casey Quinlan - January 19, 2021
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Dr. Rachel Levine

Joe Biden, who will be sworn in as president on Wednesday, announced on Tuesday that he is choosing Dr. Rachel Levine, who currently serves as Pennsylvania’s health secretary, to fill the role of assistant health secretary at the Department of Health and Human Services. Levine, who is a transgender woman, would be the first openly transgender federal official to be confirmed by the Senate.

Biden released a statement on his nomination of Levine and called her a “deeply qualified choice to help lead our administration’s health efforts.”

Pennsylvania Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf appointed Levine to head the Pennsylvania Health Department in 2017. Pennsylvania led the effort to include information about LGBTQ people in its COVID-19 data collection efforts.

Under Biden, Levine will be part of a health department that is tasked with addressing many of Trump’s anti-LGBTQ health policies.

Earlier in January, Levine spoke about LGBTQ people’s health during the announcement of the Center for American Progress’ report on policy goals to improve queer, trans, and/or nonbinary people’s health and economic well-being.

When discussing the pandemic and existing health disparities for marginalized groups, including Latinx people, Black people, and Native Americans, Levine said, “We know these communities have borne the brunt of COVID-19, and that includes the LGBTQ community, which as previously stated, has higher risks of comorbidity, and often lack of access to health care for testing.”

Levine added that the Trump administration has “really hurt” access to health care for LGBTQ people.

“It has been so challenging in the outgoing administration in terms of their work really to limit health care to LGBTQ communities,” she said.

Levine called out the Trump administration’s move to reverse a regulation in the Affordable Care Act that prohibited discrimination against queer, trans and/or nonbinary people’s in health care, and its introduction of the “Conscience and Religious Freedom Division,” which LGBTQ advocates said would only do damage to equality in health care.

In 2020, she also spoke at the International LGBTQ Leaders Conference and said that public health needs to be understood as the result of economic and social issues. Levine said she believes the minimum wage, housing, and the environment are all health issues. She acknowledged that the LGBTQ community has been particularly hard hit by the pandemic.

In November, the LGBTQ Victory Fund, which advocates for more LGBTQ people in positions in government, suggested Levine be tapped for an HHS role, as surgeon general or as secretary of the agency.

Ruben Gonzales, executive director of LGBTQ Victory Institute, which is connected to the LGBTQ Victory Fund, said, “Dr. Levine is one of the foremost experts on responding to this pandemic and our community is united in standing with her for the confirmation fight ahead.’

Gonzales added, “We know transphobic members of the U.S. Senate will try to block her nomination because of her gender identity – ignoring her qualifications to try and score political points with extremists in their political base. But our Presidential Appointments Initiative coalition of more than 30 LGBTQ and allied organizations is ready to fight like hell to defend Dr. Levine and ensure she is judged on her qualifications and nothing else.”

Levine has encountered transphobia in her work as health secretary. Last year, a Trump campaign advisor, Jenna Ellis, misgendered Levine in a tweet last year. She refused to apologize and called the response to her transphobic remarks “both hilarious and tragic.”

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.


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