Biden Appoints Dr. Rachel Levine as Assistant Secretary of Health—a Historic First for Transgender People

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If approved, Levine would be the first ever Senate-confirmed trans official in U.S. history.

Biden Appoints Dr. Rachel Levine as Assistant Secretary of Health—a Historic First for Transgender People
Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine speaking to the press, Harrisburg, Pa., in March 2020. (Wikimedia Commons)

Originally published by The 19th.

For the first time in history, a transgender person will go before the Senate to be confirmed for a presidential appointment. 

President-Elect Joe Biden has nominated Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine to serve as assistant secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. If approved, Levine would be the first ever Senate-confirmed trans official in U.S. history. In 2015, her appointment as Pennsylvania Physician General was unanimously approved by both parties in the state Senate. 

 “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.” 

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris said she looked forward to working with Levine to rebuild the country “in a way that lifts everyone up.”

“Dr. Rachel Levine is a remarkable public servant with the knowledge and experience to help us contain this pandemic, and protect and improve the health and well-being of the American people,” Harris said in a statement. 


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Levine is a professor of pediatrics and psychiatry at the Penn State College of Medicine and the president of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials. Gov. Tom Wolf named her as acting secretary of health in 2017. 

Levine’s appointment sends a strong message that the administration intends to reverse course on what advocates say has been four years of war against LGBTQ+ people under the Trump administration. While LGBTQ+ media advocacy organization GLAAD claims that President Donald Trump attacked the community more than 180 times in his term, most of his policy changes, done through executive order, may swiftly be undone by the Biden administration.

HHS rules, however, will be an exception. In June, the agency axed landmark protections for transgender people in the Affordable Care Act. The change came after an avalanche of moves seeking to allow health care workers to turn away transgender patients, people with HIV and those seeking abortions.

Last week, HHS also finalized a rule that allows government-funded social service providers to turn away LGBTQ+ people, a move that advocates say will have far-reaching consequences. HHS rules will be harder to undo than executive order because they require strict procedure, including public comment periods for rules. 

Levine’s appointment puts an exclamation point on Biden’s promise to meet the devastating health disparities facing transgender Americans. Last month, Biden nominated California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to serve as secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. LGBTQ+ rights groups praised that pick—Becerra is viewed as a longtime ally of the community. 

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About

Kate Sosin is the 19th's LGBTQ+ reporter, focusing on transgender rights, incarceration, politics and public policy. Kate has conducted deep-dive investigations into transgender prison abuse and homicides for NBC News. They previously worked at Logo TV, INTO and Windy City Times.