The United States Senate has confirmed Dr Rachel Levine as assistant secretary of health, making her the first openly transgender federal official to win the body’s confirmation.
The 52-48 vote on Wednesday was cast along party lines with two Republicans joining Democrats in support of Levine, who previously served as the top health official in the state of Pennsylvania.
Human rights advocates hailed Levine’s appointment as an historic breakthrough.
“History made,” the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ civil rights organisations, tweeted. “Trans people are leaders, innovators and change-makers – and we deserve a seat at every table.”
Levine will be a top executive official in the US Department of Health and Human Services, a key department in the US’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
She “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”, US President Joe Biden said when he nominated her in January.
History made: Dr. Rachel Levine was just confirmed as the next Assistant Secretary for Health, becoming the first-ever openly transgender federal official confirmed by the Senate.
Trans people are leaders, innovators and change-makers — and we deserve a seat at every table. pic.twitter.com/bNotSqaWDu
— Human Rights Campaign (@HRC) March 24, 2021
Levine’s confirmation comes at a challenging time for transgender people in the US, as Republican-controlled state legislatures are considering a wave of bills aimed at transgender youth.
One type of bill, introduced in at least 25 states, seeks to ban transgender girls and young women from participating in female scholastic sports, according to the Associated Press news agency.
Other proposals would outlaw or restrict certain types of medical care for transgender youth.
The US House of Representatives passed legislation enshrining LGBTQ protections in the nation’s labour and civil rights laws on February 25 but it faces dim prospects in the US Senate.
During her confirmation hearing, Republican Senator Rand Paul had confronted Levine about hormone treatment and puberty blockers for transgender children.
“Do you believe that minors are capable of making such a life-changing decision as changing one’s sex?” Paul asked.
Levine replied that transgender medicine “is a very complex and nuanced field with robust research and standards of care”.
In the past, she has said that hormone therapy and puberty-blocking drugs can spare some transgender youth from mental distress and possible suicide.
I look forward to the opportunity to continue to serve Pennsylvanians, and all Americans, as part of the Biden Administration if I am fortunate enough to be confirmed to this position. Read my full statement: https://t.co/KZNUgnh44x
— Dr. Rachel Levine (@SecretaryLevine) January 19, 2021
In a statement in January, Levine said she was proud of the work she has done to address health equity, respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, and “to raise awareness about LGBTQ equity issues”.
“I look forward to the opportunity to continue to serve Pennsylvanians, and all Americans, as part of the Biden Administration if I am fortunate enough to be confirmed to this position,” she said at that time.
Levine is a graduate of Harvard and of Tulane Medical School and president of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials. She has written on the opioid crisis, medical cannabis, adolescent medicine, eating disorders and LGBTQ medicine.