Biden Selects Rachel Levine, A Transgender Doctor, For Asst. Health Secretary

by Cassandra Stone
Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post/Getty

Pennsylvania’s Dr. Rachel Levine will be the first transgender Senate-confirmed federal official

President-elect Joe Biden announced that he will nominate Dr. Rachel Levine, Pennsylvania’s top health official, to be his assistant secretary of health. Levine, who is a pediatrician and former physician general who has helped Pennsylvania navigate the coronavirus pandemic with valuable expertise, will become the first openly transgender federal official to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

Levine has served as Pennsylvania’s health secretary since 2017, when she was appointed by Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf. Her approach to COVID-19 precautions and measures has won her national praise, and Biden has been paying attention to her hard work.

“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.”

The pandemic thrust Levine into the spotlight, as she gave regular televised updates and became a recognizable public figure to Pennsylvania residents. She’s also been on the receiving end of despicable online harassment perpetuated by rampant transphobes and has even been intentionally misgendered by right-wing members of local media.

The transphobic hate speech and violence against Levine warranted a statement from Pennsylvania’s governor last summer, after state fair organizers dressed up in Levine’s likeness to mock her and “dunk her” in a dunk tank, even though the fair wasn’t supposed to even occur due to the pandemic.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has brought hate and transphobia into the spotlight through relentless comments and slurs directed at Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine, who is a highly skilled, valued, and capable member of my administration and Transgender,” Wolf wrote in a statement at the time. “The derogatory incident involving the Bloomsburg Fair is the latest of these vile acts, which by extension impact Transgender people across the commonwealth and nation.”

When she was first appointed as Pennsylvania’s secretary of health, she was one of only a few transgender officials serving in elected or appointed offices, according to the Washington Post. Once she’s confirmed as the assistant secretary of health, Levine will be the highest-ranking transgender official in the U.S. government.

Levine will serve under Xavier Becerra, Biden’s choice to lead of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. She’ll be responsible for overseeing key health offices and programs nationwide, the Office of the Surgeon General, and the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps.

“President-elect Biden said throughout his campaign that his administration would represent America,” said Mara Keisling, the executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality. “Today, he made clear that transgender people are an important part of our country.”