On Wednesday, Dr. Rachel Levine made history as the first openly transgender person to receive a confirmation from the Senate. She was confirmed as the assistant health secretary at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) by a vote of 52 to 48.
“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,” she wrote in a statement. “When I assume this position, I will stand on the shoulders of those who came before — people we know throughout history and those whose names we will never know because they were forced to live and work in the shadows.”
Levine was appointed as Pennsylvania health secretary by Gov. Tom Wolf in 2017 and has been at the forefront of Pennsylvania’s response to the pandemic. During her time serving at the Pennsylvania Department of Health, Levine addressed the opioid crisis, medical marijuana, eating disorders, adolescent medicine, LGBTQ health, and fighting diseases like HIV and Hepatitis C.
She especially wants to use her position to focus on transgender youth.
“I know that each and every day you confront many difficult challenges,” Levine wrote. “Sadly, some of the challenges you face are from people who would seek to use your identity and circumstance as a weapon. 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.”
Levine faced a contentious hearing in the Senate in February, with a particularly tough exchange with Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) who likened gender confirmation surgery to “genital mutilation”. Dr. Levine was praised for staying calm in the face of inflammatory questioning from Republicans.
“At a time when hateful politicians are weaponizing trans lives for their own perceived political gain, Dr. Levine’s confirmation lends focus to the contributions trans people make to our nation,” said former Houston mayor Annise Parker, who is the current president of the LGBTQ Victory Institute.