Biden health nominee would be highest-ranking transgender official

·3 min read

US President-elect Joe Biden on Tuesday announced transgender pediatrician Rachel Levine as his nominee for assistant health secretary, in a "historic" move contrasting to policies of Donald Trump's often seen as discriminatory.

The incoming administration has nominated Levine -- currently secretary of health in Pennsylvania -- to serve as assistant secretary of health at the Department of Health and Human Services, Biden's transition office said.

"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," Biden said in the statement.

"She is a historic and deeply qualified choice to help lead our administration's health efforts."

The biggest crisis facing Biden as he takes office is the coronavirus pandemic that has now sickened at least 24 million and killed 400,000 people in the US, making it the worst-hit country in the world.

The transition has already named California Attorney General Xavier Becerra as its nominee for Health and Human Services secretary.

Biden has said he wants to see 100 million people vaccinated during his first 100 days as president, and is seeking billions of dollars from Congress to fund mass vaccination centers.

Levine, a professor of pediatrics and psychiatry at Penn State College of Medicine, "is poised to become the first openly transgender federal official to be confirmed by the US Senate," according to the Biden team.

She would be the highest-ranking transgender official in the US government.

Cabinet-level and senior positions require confirmation by the Senate, which will be in the Democrats' hands after Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris are sworn in Wednesday.

The Biden team statement pointed out that Levine has already been confirmed by the Republican-held Pennsylvania Senate three times in her current position.

- 'Most diverse in history' -

The Democrat was the first president-elect to thank transgender supporters during his November 7 victory speech in his hometown of Wilmington, Delaware.

"And to all those who supported us: I am proud of the campaign we built and ran. I am proud of the coalition we put together, the broadest and most diverse in history," he said.

"Democrats, Republicans and Independents. Progressives, moderates and conservatives. Young and old. Urban, suburban and rural. Gay, straight, transgender. White. Latino. Asian. Native American."

The incoming president's attitude stands in contrast to his predecessor, as the Trump administration has adopted several controversial policies in regards to transgender rights.

In a reversal from an Obama-era policy, the Trump administration in 2017 announced its plans to ban transgender people from serving in the military, claiming "tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail."

By 2018, the Pentagon said it would allow trans people who had not undergone gender confirmation surgery -- nor intended to -- to serve under their gender assigned at birth.

Federal courts blocked that policy, but the administration appealed.

In January 2019, the Supreme Court ruled the government could enforce the ban pending further court reviews.

It is estimated there are between 1,300 and 15,000 transgender US military personnel, out of a force of 1.3 million active duty troops.

The Trump administration had also tried to block protections for transgender people at work, claiming the Civil Rights Act prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex did not apply to sexual or gender minorities.

But the US Supreme Court ruled in June 2020 that transgender, gay and lesbian people were covered under the 1964 landmark legislation.