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Rachel Levine

Assistant Health Secretary

Dr. Rachel Levine has served as the Pennsylvania Secretary of Health since 2017. She has received praise for her work on Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana program, combating the opioid crisis, and most recently her handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Levine has supported initiatives to decrease maternal mortality, improve health outcomes for LGBTQ communities, and protect access to abortion and birth control. Levine is a trained pediatrician and alumnae of Harvard College and Tulane University School of Medicine who has championed health equity for all and shown strong public health leadership. Once confirmed as assistant secretary of health, she will be the highest ranking, openly transgender, federal official.

Levine Was Named Biden’s Choice For Assistant Health Secretary On January 19, 2021

Biden Announced He Will Nominate Levine For Assistant Secretary Of Health. “President-elect Joe Biden announced Tuesday that he will nominate Rachel Levine, Pennsylvania’s top health official, as his assistant secretary of health. Levine, a pediatrician, would become the first openly transgender federal official to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.” [Washington Post, 1/19/21]

Levine’s Nomination Is Historical, Set To Make Her The Highest Ranking, Openly Transgender Public Official In The Nation

In Her Current Role, Levine Is One Of Only A Few Transgender Public Officials In The Nation. “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 U.S. government.” [Washington Post, 1/19/21]

Her Nomination Will Be The First Time A Transgender Person Is Up For Senate Confirmation. For the first time in history, a transgender person will go before the Senate to be confirmed for a presidential appointment. President-elect Joe Biden has nominated Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine to serve as assistant secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. If approved, Levine would be the first ever Senate-confirmed trans official in U.S. history. In 2015, her appointment as Pennsylvania Physician General was unanimously approved by both parties in the state Senate. [Government Executive, 1/19/21]

Her Nomination Indicates The Biden-Harris Administration’s Intent To Undo Harm Caused By The Trump Administration’s Anti-LGBTQ Policies in HHS and Other Agencies.  “Levine’s appointment sends a strong message that the administration intends to reverse course on what advocates say has been four years of war against LGBTQ+ people under the Trump administration. While LGBTQ+ media advocacy organization GLAAD claims that President Donald Trump attacked the community more than 180 times in his term, most of his policy changes, done through executive order, may swiftly be undone by the Biden administration... Levine’s appointment puts an exclamation point on Biden’s promise to meet the devastating health disparities facing transgender Americans.” [Government Executive, 1/19/21]

  • The Trump Administration HHS Issued A Rule Granting Federally Funded Social Services, Such As Adoption Agencies, The Right To Discriminate Based On Gender And Sexual Orientation “In the aftermath of the MAGA riots, Donald Trump’s Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a final rule that would allow the recipients of the federal department’s grant money – including adoption and fostering agencies – to discriminate against LGBTQ people and other religions. The final rule was issued on Thursday this week, dropping Obama-era rules that banned recipients of HHS grants from discriminating based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and religion. The rule change also removes a requirement that grantees “treat as valid the marriages of same-sex couples.” [LGBTQ Nation, 1/8/21]
  • The Trump Administration Reversed An HHS Rule On Section 1557 Of The Affordable Care Act That Gave Nondiscrimination Protections To LGBTQ Communities. “The rule focuses on nondiscrimination protections laid out in Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act. That federal law established that it is illegal to discriminate on the basis of "race, color, national origin, sex, age or disability in certain health programs and activities." In 2016, an Obama-era rule explained that protections regarding "sex" encompass those based on gender identity, which it defined as "male, female, neither, or a combination of male and female. In June 2019, under Trump, the HHS Office for Civil Rights proposed a rule (the one finalized this week) that reverses the one from the Obama administration.” [NPR, 6/12/20]

Levine Centers Health Equity For All And Demonstrates Strong Public Health Leadership

Levine Has Centered Health Equity In Her Current Position. “In a statement released Tuesday afternoon, Levine said she was proud of the work she has been able to accomplish at the Pennsylvania Department of Health. She highlighted her efforts to address the opioid epidemic by developing “innovative models to get people into treatment and into recovery" and the work her team has done to fight diseases such as HIV and Hepatitis C. 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,” she said. "And I am extremely proud of the work we have done during the last year to save lives in the face of the COVID-19 global pandemic. 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.” [Washington Post, 1/19/21]

Levine Has Demonstrated Strong Public Health Leadership Capabilities. “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,” Biden said in a statement. “She is a historic and deeply qualified choice to help lead our administration’s health efforts.” [Government Executive, 1/19/21]

Levine Pledged To Review Every Maternal Death In Effort To Combat Maternal Mortality In Pennsylvania.  “This is a national issue, and there has been a significant increase in maternal mortality and morbidity, but our new committee is the Maternal Mortality Committee (established this year by Act 24). In the United States in 1999, the death rate was 9.8 women per 100,000 live births; in 2014, it was 18. In Pennsylvania it also has been rising. In Pennsylvania, from 2012 to 2016, the rate was 11.4 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. For Caucasian women, it was 8.7. For African-American women, it was 27.2. So (it’s been) below the national average, which is good, but still rising with a significant racial disparity. No one knows exactly why the maternal mortality rate has gone up in the United States. Our committee has only had one meeting, so I can’t tell you exactly why in Pennsylvania, but we hope to learn that. That is the purpose of the committee. We are going to review every death.” [Lancaster Online, 3/20/20]

In Response To Transphobia Hurled Her Way She Has Pointed Out The Inequitable Burden Carried By Transgender Women Of Color. “Despite a Supreme Court ruling just a month earlier barring employment discrimination for gay and transgender people, Levine said, Pennsylvania is one of many states where LGBTQ people can still be denied housing and public accommodations in places that do not have local nondiscrimination ordinances. Transgender women of color in particular face high rates of violence and homicide, she added.” [Washington Post, 1/19/21]

Levine Has Referenced Being Trans As Guiding Fuel For Her Career And Advocacy. “She transitioned in 2011 and, while her immediate family has mostly been accepting, she knows that existing publicly as a transgender person in America remains dangerous. “It just fuels my desire to do my job and to advocate,” she told The Washington Post in 2016, when she was just one of a handful of transgender public officials in the country.” [The Hill, 1/19/21]

Levine Prioritized Issues Which Adversely Impact Marginalized Communities During Her Tenure As Pennsylvania’s Department Of Health Secretary. “In the past year and a half, our priorities were the opioid crisis, medical marijuana and the rural health initiative — an initiative to save rural hospitals, which are under stress in our current fee-for-service environment.” [Lancaster Online, 3/20/20]

Levine Has Sought To Protect Pennsylvanians From Transphobic and Homophobic Federal Policies. “Pennsylvania and Governor Tom Wolf have been committed to working to ensure the rights of all citizens. This includes the state's LGBTQ Affairs Commission, the first of its kind in the country. The commission exists to ensure that no one faces barriers or obstacles based on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression. "We continue to decry actions by the federal government that threaten the very health and well-being of some of our most vulnerable citizens," Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said. "The continuous attacks on the rights of transgender Americans, must stop. Gov. Wolf has shown that protecting the rights of all Pennsylvanians is essential to our continued success and prosperity -- the federal government should do the same."  [Pennsylvania Pressroom, 8/14/19]

Levine Is A Champion For Adolescent Health And Has Committed Herself To Creating Safe, Healthy Spaces For Youth In LGBTQ Communities

Levine Started The Adolescent Medicine Program At The Penn State College Of Medicine. “After my fellowship at Mount Sinai in New York City, I stayed for five years, and then I made the biggest transition I have had in my life — which is saying something. In 1993, I moved from 80th and 1st in Manhattan to central Pennsylvania to be at the Penn State College of Medicine. And there I developed the Adolescent Medicine Program. I have always been interested in patients with eating disorders because it really is this medical-behavioral-health intersection. I started the eating disorder program, and that grew over 20 years.” [Lancaster Online, 3/20/20]

Levine Advocated For LGBTQ Students To Receive Equal Treatment. “Every day, valiant students walk the school halls as forced activists of what has become one of the most contentious issues of our time. This decision is much more about young people's lives then about politics and bathrooms. It's about young people learning math and history while planning a prom and finalizing a college essay. It's about the many parents, teachers, principals and school boards who have stood by young people to extend protections based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. It goes back to one of the first lessons we all teach our children - treat others the way you would like to be treated. To Pennsylvania's transgender and gender expansive youth and their families who are worried or concerned, I want you to know that Governor Wolf's administration has your back.” [Patriot-News, 2/28/17]

Levine’s Nomination Received Praise From LGBTQ Advocacy Groups

The National Center For Transgender Equality Issued A Celebratory Statement.  “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.” [Washington Post, 1/19/21]

LGBTQ And Allied Organizations Have Announced Their Support For Levine. “We know transphobic members of the U.S. Senate will try to block her nomination because of her gender identity – ignoring her qualifications to try and score political points with extremists in their political base. But our Presidential Appointments Initiative coalition of more than 30 LGBTQ and allied organizations is ready to fight like hell to defend Dr. Levine and ensure she is judged on her qualifications and nothing else. The majority of Americans want whoever is best prepared to fight this pandemic and that person is Dr. Levine,” said Ruben Gonzales, Executive Director of LGBTQ Victory Institute, in a statement. [The Hill, 1/19/21]

GLAAD Published A Statement Acknowledging Levine’s History-Making Nomination. “Under Secretary Azar, HHS rolled back healthcare protections for transgender Americans and regularly engaged in policy attacks on other marginalized communities. With Dr. Rachel Levine’s nomination, HHS is now set to be home to the first transgender Senate-confirmed federal official, a truly historic and deserved piece of visibility for transgender Americans,” said Sarah Kate Ellis, President and CEO of GLAAD. [The Hill, 1/19/21

Levine Has Opposed Abortion Restrictions Throughout Her Career And Advocated For Reproductive Health Access

Levine Opposed An Abortion Ban In Pennsylvania, Stating That Such Bills Punish Pregnant People With Complications And Strip Them Of Their Right To Reproductive Autonomy. “The bill has garnered opposition from doctors like the state’s Physician General, Rachel Levine, who said that non-genetic fetal abnormalities are typically not diagnosable until about 20 weeks. ‘This bill, in fact, punishes women whose pregnancies have complications,’ Levine said in a statement in April. ‘Women and their families, when faced with a devastating diagnosis of a significant fetal anomaly, have the right to make the decision which is appropriate for them, in consultation with their doctors.’” [Philly Mag, 6/22/16]

Levine Said Women Should Be Trusted To Make Their Own Choices. “Women and their families, when faced with a devastating diagnosis of a significant fetal anomaly, have the right to make the decision which is appropriate for them, in consultation with their doctors. Doctors and their patients must be able to make choices about their medical procedures based on best practices and standards of care. We need to help women facing difficult pregnancies, not punish them. We need to trust women to make their own choices, not dictate those decisions to them.” [Pennsylvania Pressroom, 10/14/16]

Levine Spoke Out Against The Trump Administration’s Attempts To Reduce Employees’ Access To Birth Control.  “It is immoral and unethical to give any employer the ability to take away access to healthcare for an entire gender,” Acting Health Secretary and Physician General Dr. Rachel Levine said. “Birth control pills are a commonly used medication to treat medical conditions such as pelvic pain and migraines due to menstrual periods, endometriosis, and polycystic ovarian syndrome, as well as a safe and effective family planning option. We cannot allow women’s health to be reduced to one issue or be jeopardized in any way.” [Pennsylvania  Pressroom, 10/10/17]

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