By Laurel Wamsley
March 24th, 2021
Dr. Rachel Levine testifies last month at the Senate confirmation hearing for her nomination as assistant secretary for health. Levine previously was Pennsylvania’s secretary of health. Caroline Brehman/Pool/Getty Images
The Senate voted Wednesday to confirm Dr. Rachel Levine as assistant secretary for health in the Department of Health and Human Services. The vote is a history-making one: Levine is the first openly transgender federal official to be confirmed by the Senate.
The vote was 52-48 in favor of her confirmation.
Levine was previously Pennsylvania’s secretary of health, where she led the commonwealth’s COVID-19 response.
Before the vote, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., urged her colleagues to support Levine’s nomination, calling her a “trusted voice” for Pennsylvanians on matters, including opioid prescribing guidelines, health equity and LGBTQ health care.
Murray also noted the significance of the vote.
“I’ve always said the people in our government should reflect the people it serves, and today we will take a new historic step towards making that a reality. I’m proud to vote for Dr. Levine and incredibly proud of the progress this confirmation will represent, for our country and for transgender people all across it who are watching today,” she said.
Levine began her medical career as a pediatrician at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York, and she is a professor at the Penn State College of Medicine, where she teaches on topics such as adolescent medicine, eating disorders and transgender medicine. She is a graduate of Harvard College and the Tulane University School of Medicine.
In a statement in January about the nomination, President Biden said 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.”
Last month’s confirmation hearing for Levine included combative questioning by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., in which the lawmaker demanded to know if Levine believes minors are capable of making “such a life-changing decision as changing one’s sex,” comparing sex reassignment procedures to “genital mutilation.”
Levine replied, “Transgender medicine is a very complex and nuanced field with robust research and standards of care that have been developed and, if I am fortunate enough to be confirmed as the assistant secretary of health, I will look forward to working with you and your office and coming to your office and discussing the particulars of the standards of care for transgender medicine.”
Levine was previously the state’s physician general, a post for which she was unanimously confirmed.
“With very few exceptions my being transgender is not an issue,” Levine told The Washington Post in 2016. She said then that it’s her work for which she wants to be known.
“I’m very confident in who I am,” she said.
Adrian Shanker is an award-winning activist and organizer whose career has centered on advancing progress for the LGBT community. He has worked as an arts fundraiser, labor organizer, marketing manager, and served as President of Equality Pennsylvania for three years before founding Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center in Allentown, PA, where he serves as executive director. An accomplished organizer, Adrian has led numerous successful campaigns to advance LGBT progress through municipal nondiscrimination and relationship recognition laws and laws to protect LGBT youth from conversion therapy. A specialist in LGBT health policy, he has developed leading-edge health promotion campaigns to advance health equity through behavioral, clinical, and policy changes.
Rachel L. Levine, MD, is the secretary of health for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and Professor of Pediatrics and Psychiatry at the Penn State College of Medicine. She is a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine, and the Academy for Eating Disorders. She is a member of the World Professional Association for Transgender Health. She is also a board member and executive committee member of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials. Dr. Levine joined Governor Tom Wolf’s administration in January 2015 as the physician general of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and, upon her appointment, became the first transgender person to hold a cabinet position in Pennsylvania. In 2017, she was named the acting secretary of health and in 2018 was confirmed by the Pennsylvania Senate as the Secretary of Health. She leads the LGBTQ Policy Workgroup and advocates for LGBT rights for the Wolf Administration. Dr. Levine is also an accomplished regional and international speaker and author on the opioid crisis, medical marijuana, adolescent medicine, eating disorders, and LGBT medicine. Dr. Levine graduated from Harvard College and the Tulane University School of Medicine. She completed her training in pediatrics and adolescent medicine at the Mt. Sinai Medical Center in New York City.