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Biden's Pick for Big HHS Role a Historic First

Rachel Levine may be first openly transgender federal official to get confirmed by Senate
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 19, 2021 9:20 AM CST
Biden's Pick for Big HHS Role a Historic First
In this May 29, 2020, file photo, Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine is seen at Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency headquarters in Harrisburg, Pa.   (Joe Hermitt/The Patriot-News via AP, File)

(Newser) – Xavier Becerra has a new No. 2 at Health and Human Services. The AP reports that President-elect Joe Biden has picked Dr. Rachel Levine, Pennsylvania's current health secretary, to serve as his assistant health secretary under Becerra, who has been nominated by Biden to be the nation's top health official. What makes Levine, a Harvard- and Tulane Medical School-educated pediatrician, unique: She'd be the first openly transgender federal official to be confirmed by the Senate. "Dr. Rachel Levine ... is a historic and deeply qualified choice to help lead our administration's health efforts," Biden said in a statement, adding that Levine will "bring the steady leadership and extensive expertise we need to get people through this pandemic."

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Pennsylvania's Democratic governor, Tom Wolf, appointed Levine as the state's physician general in 2015, and her extensive background in behavioral and mental health earned her an easy, unanimous confirmation from the GOP-controlled state Senate. Per her bio, Levine's many areas of expertise include eating disorders, work on the opioid crisis, medical marijuana, and LGBT medicine. The Washington Post notes very little attention was paid to Levine's gender identity at the time, but when she was promoted to health secretary in 2017—again, with the backing of the state Senate—and she became more of a public face during the COVID pandemic, she experienced an uptick in transphobic remarks directed her way. PennLive.com has more on the 64-year-old's life and career, including on when she "decided to live my life with no secrets ... with no fear." (Read more transgender stories.)

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