President-elect Joe Biden has announced the appointment of Surgeon General Dr. Rachel Levine to the role of assistant secretary of health for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Although she still needs to be confirmed, the appointment means that Levine is poised to become the first openly trans federal official confirmed by the US Senate.
“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,” said Biden in a statement. “She is a historic and deeply qualified choice to help lead our administration’s health efforts.”
Levine was appointed to her current Pennsylvania post in 2017, which made her one of a few trans people serving in political positions statewide. A pediatrician and former Pennsylvania physician general, Levine has won past confirmation by a Republican-controlled state senate. She’s also the president of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials and a graduate of both Harvard and Tulane Medical School. In the past, she’s written professionally and medically on the opioid crisis, adolescent medicine, eating disorders, medical cannabis, and LGBTQ+ medicine. Levine is also an alum of GO Mag’s 100 Women We Love: Class of 2020.
Levine’s nomination is a win for both LGBTQ+ rights and for pandemic safety. As Pennsylvania’s surgeon general, Levine led the state’s pandemic response team — often facing heavy criticism and transphobia. Her appointment is also major news for the LGBTQ+ community, as HHS has been at the center of numerous attacks on trans and gay rights over the course of the Trump Administration. With Levine at the helm, however, it’s expected that the department will restore protections for LGBTQ+ individuals.
“Dr. Rachel Levine is a remarkable public servant with the knowledge and experience to help us contain this pandemic, and protect and improve the health and well-being of the American people,” Vice President-elect Kamala Harris said in a statement. “President-elect Biden and I look forward to working with her to meet the unprecedented challenges facing Americans and rebuild our country in a way that lifts everyone up.”