Rachel Levine, transgender woman, picked by Biden as assistant HHS secretary
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.
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.
“Dr. Levine? Thank you. You were a hit and raised a lot of money for the local fire companies. Wonder why so many were trying to dunk you?” the Bloomsburg Fair Association wrote in July on Facebook, adding a smiling emoji, before deleting the post.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has brought hate and transphobia into the spotlight through relentless comments and slurs directed at Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine, who is a highly skilled, valued, and capable member of my administration and Transgender,” Wolf wrote in a statement at the time. “The derogatory incident involving the Bloomsburg Fair is the latest of these vile acts, which by extension impact Transgender people across the commonwealth and nation.”
In 2015, Wolf first appointed her as Pennsylvania’s physician general, the state’s top doctor. Impressed with her background in behavioral and mental health, the state Senate voted unanimously to approve her, paying little attention to her gender identity during the confirmation process.
But after Levine received a promotion to become Pennsylvania’s health secretary, the coronavirus raised her profile across the state. As she sought to contain the pandemic with aggressive social distancing rules, it also made her the target of more frequent abuse.
Last May, a radio personality repeatedly misgendered Levine, calling the health secretary “sir” at least three times while questioning her on the state’s coronavirus response. A commissioner at a township near Pittsburgh said he was “tired of listening to a guy dressed up like a woman.” After Pennsylvania ordered its residents to wear masks at all times in public, a Facebook page run by one town shared a meme referring to her as “a guy who wears a bra.”