Assisant Health Secretary Rachel Levine sets trail-blazing path: How the highest-ranking openly transgender person to serve in the federal government has navigated her first months in office

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Assistant Secretary for Health Dr. Rachel Levine speaks at a press conference outside WellSpan York Hospital. Credit: Mark Pynes
Assistant Secretary for Health Dr. Rachel Levine speaks at a press conference outside WellSpan York Hospital. Credit: Mark Pynes

Dr. [Rachel] Levine, a former Pennsylvania health secretary, is now President Biden’s assistant secretary for health, the first openly transgender person ever confirmed by the Senate, and she has taken office in the middle of something of a transgender moment. A culture war is intensifying, waged largely by Republicans who have sought in state after state to restrict transgender rights and block transgender girls from participating on girls’ sports teams.

“[T]ransgender people have become more prominent, so I think maybe some pushback for that. But I think at its heart, this is politics,” [said Dr. Levine.]

Dr. Levine has suffered through her own share of false assumptions and attacks. A radio reporter insisted on calling her “sir.” Firefighters raised money at a county fair in Pennsylvania by putting a “Dr. Levine impersonator” — a man wearing a dress and a wig — in a dunk tank. 

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Dr. Levine said she intended to prioritize mental health, health equity and the opioid epidemic, a problem she also tackled while in Pennsylvania. Her “most urgent” priority, she said, is fighting the coronavirus, and especially addressing vaccine hesitancy.

But she also intends to advocate on behalf of transgender youth, and work to raise awareness. 

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