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Biden selects transgender doctor Rachel Levine as assistant health secretary

Rachel Levine

President-elect Joe Biden announced Tuesday that he will nominate Pennsylvania’s top health official, Rachel Levine, to be his assistant secretary of health.

Levine, a paediatrician, would become the first openly transgender federal official to be confirmed by the U.S. 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,” Biden said in a statement. “She is a historic and deeply qualified choice to help lead our administration’s health efforts.”

Levine serves as Pennsylvania’s secretary of health and has been leading the state’s public health response to the coronavirus pandemic. Biden’s transition team noted that Levine — appointed by Gov. Tom Wolf (D) in 2017 as acting health secretary — was confirmed three times by the Republican-controlled state Senate to serve as secretary of health and the state’s physician general.

At the time, she was one of only a handful of transgender officials serving in elected or appointed offices nationwide. If confirmed as assistant secretary of health, Levine would be the highest ranking transgender official in the US government.

“President-elect Biden said throughout his campaign that his administration would represent America,” said Mara Keisling, the executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality. “Today, he made clear that transgender people are an important part of our country.”

Serving under Xavier Becerra, Biden’s nominee to head the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Levine would oversee key health offices and programs across the department, 10 regional health offices nationwide, the Office of the Surgeon General and the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps.

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Last year, as Levine rose to prominence leading Pennsylvania’s pandemic response, she became the target of attacks on her gender identity.

One in particular made headlines and earned a scathing rebuke from the governor: A photo of a man sitting in a carnival dunk tank wearing a floral print dress and a long blond wig. The man said he was going for a Marilyn Monroe look, but organizers of the carnival fundraiser in Bloomsburg, Pa., said he resembled Levine.

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