By Julia Mills ’22, News Reporter
Recently, Joe Biden has received widespread commendation for his nomination of Rachel Levine, M.D., as his Assistant Secretary of Health. This nomination marks a milestone for the LGBTQ+ community, as Levine will be the first openly transgender person to serve the government on a federal level if Senate approves her position.
While Levine has helped implement COVID-19 policy in Pennsylvania as the commonwealth’s Secretary of Health, she now has the opportunity to serve on a larger scale. If she is granted the position, her job will include “overseeing the Department’s key public health offices and programs, a number of Presidential and Secretarial advisory committees, 10 regional health offices across the nation, and the Office of the Surgeon General and the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps,” according to the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Health website.
Levine’s current position under Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf has yielded important work toward combatting the state’s dire opioid crisis as well as the establishment of a medical marijuana program. While she faced harsh criticism of her COVID-19 policies regarding nursing homes, she was applauded for her order that law enforcement agents carry naloxone, an anti-overdose medication.
When she was nominated to her current position from her former position of Physician General, she was unanimously approved in the Pennsylvania Capitol, surprisingly managing to win over her conservative colleagues. “One of the things I’m most proud of is that I was unanimously confirmed by the senate. [They] judged me strictly on my professional qualifications,” Levine says. These qualifications include a Harvard education and a diploma from the Tulane School of Medicine. She has also used her platform under Tom Wolf to advocate for the mental health and medical understanding of those belonging to the LGBTQ+ community.
Being a transgender woman in the public eye unfortunately comes with boundless harassment and transphobia, both of which Levine has experienced in her career. Since she transitioned in 2011, she has been mocked by government officials and online trolls for her appearance and gender. Though the hate is overwhelming, she is known to rarely acknowledge her hecklers. Leela Woody, Mercersburg’s Director of the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Justice initiative, says “In moving through those responses gracefully and professionally, Dr. Levine demonstrates to the world that the time for change and progress has come and that bigotry does not warrant a response or define an individual.”
While Levine’s nomination is monumental, she is not, of course, the first individual making history under the Biden administration. In addition, of course to Kamala Harris, the first woman and the first person of color to hold the Vice Presidency, other historic figures include: retired general Lloyd Austin, the first African American to head the Department of Defense; Transportation Secretary Pete Buttegeig, the first openly gay Cabinet member; Deb Haaland, the first Native American nominee to any Cabinet position (if approved, Haaland will lead the Department of the Interior); and Janet Yellen, the first woman Secretary of the Treasury.
As the Brookings Institution tells Forbes magazine, “It seems clear that the Biden team is on track to assemble the most diverse set of Senate-confirmed appointees in American history.”
Woody adds to this, saying, “While our white, cis, straight, and American children have largely been able to see representations of themselves in all sorts of positions of power (celebrities, politicians, leaders), we are still at the beginning of children with marginalized identities really getting to envision those same opportunities.”
Without a doubt, these newfound spaces for diverse groups are proof of an optimistic turning point in the future of American leadership.