Newly inaugurated President Joseph R. Biden has begun his term in office by making efforts to diversify the team who will work under his presidency. Included in this diversification is Dr. Rachel Levine, who Biden has nominated as Assistant Secretary of Health. Approval of this nomination would make her the first openly transgender federal official in United States history.
With her extensive background in public health, Dr. Levine’s nomination comes as no surprise. Her experience includes an undergraduate education from Harvard University along with Medical Schooling from Tulane, chief residency at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York and teaching in the pediatrics and psychiatry department of Penn State College of Medicine. She acts as the President of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, Chief of the Division of Adolescent Medicine and Eating Disorders at Penn State and the Vice-Chair for Clinical Affairs for the Department of Pediatrics at Penn State. Along with these accolades, she is also a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine and the Academy for Eating Disorders.
Above all her accomplishments, her background in public health is particularly notable. For the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Levine served as the Physician General from 2015-2017, Acting Secretary of Health from 2017-2018 and Secretary of Health since 2018.
Levine’s history also includes an array of health specialties. Her efforts primarily focus on pediatric and adolescent health, LGBTQ+ medicine, eating disorders, medical marijuana and the opioid crisis. She is a dedicated advocate for health equity, a goal deeply reflected in President Biden’s statement about coronavirus relief regardless of “zip code, race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.”
Most recently, Levine’s work has included an assertive response to the Covid-19 pandemic, issuing strict social distancing rules for the state of Pennsylvania. On a national scale, Levine has stated that "It will be essential for the federal government to provide more funding to the states, territories and cities that will be tasked with administering the vaccine" (NPR). Her approach has resulted in heavy criticism from some of the public and fellow government officials, seeing as though coronavirus response has become such a controversial issue.
This is not Levine’s first encounter with public criticism, however. Beyond disagreement with her health policies, critics have focused on her gender identity as the subject of their remarks. She has been purposely misgendered by other government officials, degraded and disregarded for her gender identity. Levine took to Twitter in July 2020 to address the history of harassment against her, stating: "Your actions perpetuate a spirit of intolerance and discrimination against LBGTQ individuals and specifically transgender individuals." The transphobia she faces exemplifies the intolerant attitudes many Americans still hold, and the room for progress to be made.
Levine’s nomination as Assistant Secretary of Health represents the United States' strides towards giving members of the LGBTQ+ community a stronger voice. As potentially the first transgender federal official, Levine paves the way for other highly qualified LGBTQ+ professionals to be equally respected as their cisgender, heterosexual colleagues. From her tireless work in health equity to her status as an abundantly successful public figure, Dr. Rachel Levine is undoubtedly making history.