The incoming US President-elect Joe Biden’s administration is by any measure a historic one when it comes to diversity. Now, in another momentous decision, Biden on Tuesday nominated Pennsylvania Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine as his pick for Assistant Health Secretary.
Dr Levine – paediatrician and former Pennsylvania physician general – will become the first openly transgender federal official to be confirmed by the US Senate and the highest ranked transgender official in the country.
A Historic Choice
Dr. Levine’s work as a public health expert leading Pennsylvania’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic seems to have been what led to the cabinet pick. The decision is an important one as Biden looks to deal with rising Coronavirus infections and deaths and the vaccine roll out when he takes office on Wednesday. As of Tuesday, the US crossed 96 million infections and recorded 2.05 million deaths from COVID-19.
“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. She is a historic and deeply qualified choice to help lead our administration’s health efforts,” the US President-elect said in a statement.
Dr. Levine said that she was looking “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.”
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
“I am proud of the work we have done as an administration to address health equity, and the work I have done personally to raise awareness about LGBTQ equity issues,” said Dr. Levine.
Fighting COVID-19 and Transphobia
She reflected on her time with the Pennsylvania health department, including her work in dealing with the opioid epidemic, HIV, Hepatitis-C and in the past year the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dr. Levine has been the face of Pensylvannia’s COVID-19 response and has been credited for enforcing public health measures to stop the spread of infections. However, she has also faced criticism and often abuse, trolling and bigotry on social media on account of her identity as a trans woman.
“I feel that I must personally respond to the multiple incidents of LGBTQ harassment and specifically transphobia directed at me.
“I want to emphasise that while these individuals may think they are only expressing their displeasure with me, they are in fact hurting the thousands of LGBTQ Pennsylvanians who suffer directly from these current demonstrations of harassment. Your actions perpetuate a spirit of intolerance and discrimination against LGBTQ individuals and specifically transgender individuals,” she had said.
The news of Dr. Levine’s nomination has already met with transphobic comments and bigotry on social media.
The Biden-Harris Promise To LGBTQI Communities
Dr. Levine’s nomination won praise from equal rights organisations, who praised the incoming President for continuing to fulfil the commitments made to the LGBTQI community.
“President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris have continued to keep their promise to create an administration that reflects the diversity and life experiences of America,” said Alphonso David, President of the Human Rights Campaign.
“Dr. Rachel Levine, a highly experienced and qualified public health leader, has led Pennsylvania’s public health response to the COVID-19 pandemic superbly. At a time when access to health care is a growing crisis for transgender people, made worse by anti-LGBTQ legislation and legislators across the nation, Dr. Levine has the empathy to understand the health needs of our diverse country and the skillset to improve them,” said HRC.
Dr Levine will join Pete Buttigieg as the two openly LGBTQI member of Biden’s cabinet. Biden had nominated Buttigieg for Transport Secretary, with the Senate confirmation hearing scheduled to take place January 21, 2021.
Biden who will be sworn in as the 46th President of the United States on January 20 (USA time) has promised a slew of measures to protect the rights of the LGBTQI community. This includes passing the anti-discrimination law Equality Act in his first 100 days and overturning President Donald Trump’s ban on transgender persons in the military.
On Tuesday Biden’s pick to head the Pentagon, retired Army General Lloyd Austin, during his Senate confirmation hearing said that he supported the plan to overturn the ban on transgender service members.