President-elect Joe Biden has nominated Pennsylvania Health Secretary Rachel Levine to be his assistant secretary of health, making her the first openly transgender official to be confirmed by the Senate. Levine's nomination for the critical role during the time of the pandemic is an extension of Biden's promise to choose a diverse slate of leaders for senior administrative roles.
At the same time, Levine's nomination is recognition of a sexual identity that has historically been assaulted and marginalized both at the mainstream and public official levels. Levine will be serving under Xavier Becerra, Biden's nominee to lead the US Department of Health and Human Services.
Much like Becerra, Levine's nomination must be confirmed by the US Senate, which is narrowly controlled by the Democrats. However, if she is confirmed, she will become the highest-ranking trans person ever to serve in the federal government.
"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.
Levine, a pediatrician and former Pennsylvania physician general, was appointed to her current post by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf in 2017. According to a statement by the Biden's transition team, Levine had been confirmed thrice by the Republican-majority Pennsylvania Senate and emerged as the public face of the state's response to the coronavirus pandemic.
A graduate of Harvard and Tulane Medical School, Levine is also the president of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials. Besides, she has written in the past on opioid crisis, medical marijuana, adolescent medicine, eating disorders and LGBTQ medicine.
Transgender Community Hails Nomination
The transgender community has time and again been marginalized, fended off personal assails and attacks on its civil rights. Levine has served as a role model for the community in Pennsylvania, fending off hostile attacks that included transphobic memes, relentless online commentary about her appearance and having her face plastered on anti-lockdown billboards.
Naturally, her nomination means a lot to the transgender community now. Raffi Freedman-Gurspan, who served in the Obama administration and was the first openly trans person to work in the White House, said Levine's appointment marks "a new day for transgender America."
"She will absolutely be a mentor and a positive model for countless trans and LGBTQ people in the country," said Jason Landau Goodman, executive director of The Pennsylvania Youth Congress, a trans advocacy group.
Levine will now join other health-related nominees named by Biden, including former Food and Drug Administrator David Kessler. Businessman Jeff Zients will serve as Biden's coronavirus response coordinator, while infectious-disease specialist Rochelle Walensky will be in charge of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Vivek Murthy will be the surgeon general and Yale epidemiologist Marcella Nunez-Smith will head a group to ensure fair distribution of vaccines. Government's top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, will also be working closely with the Biden administration.