In Historic First, Senate Confirms HHS Official Rachel Levine

Rachel Levine is the first out transgender federal official confirmed by the US Senate.
Caroline Brehman/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

The US Senate has confirmed Rachel Levine as the first out transgender federal official to serve as the Biden administration’s assistant secretary for health at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Senators voted 52-48 on March 24 in favor of Levine’s confirmation — and while most Republicans voted against Levine, two women Republican Senators, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, confirmed Levine.

Levine hopes her historic appointment can set a precedent for electing trans leaders.

“As Vice President Harris has said, I recognize that I may be the first, but am heartened by the knowledge that I will not be the last,” Levine said in a written statement.

Previously, Levine worked as a top health official in Pennsylvania and spearheaded the state’s public health response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Levine is set to serve under incoming HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra in an agency that became a key tool in the Trump administration’s broad assault on queer rights — especially trans rights.

LGBTQ organizations and advocates welcomed Levine’s confirmation. Erin Uritus, CEO of Out and Equal Workplace, an LGBTQ workplace advocacy group, said they are looking forward to expanding protections for transgender health.

“With Dr. Rachel Levine’s historic confirmation, transgender Americans will be able to see themselves in a position of profound leadership,” Uritus said in a written statement to Gay City News. “Her leadership and expertise will help guide our country out of the COVID-19 pandemic into healthier, brighter days.”

Although widely respected by colleagues and researchers alike, Levine was slammed with transphobic rhetoric last month during a confirmation hearing. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky falsely compared gender-confirming surgeries for trans youth to “genital mutilation” and demanded to know if Levine supported these procedures.

Despite these attacks, Levine continues to pledge her support for trans kids, who have been targeted by a wave of anti-trans sports and health bills in the US.

“I know that each and every day you confront many difficult challenges,” she said after her confirmation. “It hurts. I know. I cannot promise you that these attacks will immediately cease, but I will do everything I can to support you and advocate for you.”

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