Senate Confirms First Openly Transgender Official As Assistant Health Secretary

Rachel Levine, nominee for Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services, testifies before a confirmation hearing of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee in Washington, DC, on February 25, 2... Rachel Levine, nominee for Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services, testifies before a confirmation hearing of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee in Washington, DC, on February 25, 2021. (Photo by TOM BRENNER / POOL / AFP) (Photo by TOM BRENNER/POOL/AFP via Getty Images) MORE LESS
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March 24, 2021 6:48 p.m.

The Senate confirmed Dr. Rachel Levine as assistant secretary of health at the Department of Health and Human Services in a 52-48 vote on Wednesday, making her the first openly transgender federal official confirmed by the chamber.

Sens. Susan  Collins (R-ME) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) joined all Democratic senators in voting in favor of Levine’s confirmation.

Levin, a pediatrician, previously served as Pennsylvania’s secretary of health and physician general.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) praised Levine’s historic confirmation in floor remarks prior to the vote.

“The confirmation of Rachel Levine represents another important milestone for the American LGBTQ community,” Schumer said. “As transgender Americans suffer higher rates of abuse, homelessness and depression than almost every other group, it’s important to have national figures like Dr. Levine who by virtue of being in the public spotlight will help break down barriers of ignorance and fear.”

Levine will serve under HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra, the former California attorney general who was narrowly confirmed by the Senate in a 50-49 vote last week.

In a statement released in January announcing Levine’s nomination, President Biden said Levine “will bring the steady leadership and essential expertise” the country needs to get Americans through the COVID-19 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.

Levine’s medical career began as a pediatrician at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York. She is currently a professor at the Penn State College of Medicine. Levine graduated from Harvard College and the Tulane University School of Medicine.

Last month, Levine’s confirmation hearing grew contentious when Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) combatively asked Levine whether she believes minors are capable of making “such a life-changing decision as changing one’s sex.”

Paul compared sex reassignment procedures to “genital mutilation,” which drew backlash from Democrats who criticized the Republican senator for misrepresenting gender confirmation surgery.

Levine replied that transgender medicine is a “very complex and nuanced field with robust research and standards of care that have been developed” while offering an olive branch to Paul if confirmed by the Senate.

“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 said.

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