Joe Biden Makes History Picking Transgender Doctor Rachel Levine for Assistant Health Secretary

Corinne Heller
·3 min read

President Joe Biden has named Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine as the new assistant health secretary, marking the first time an openly transgender official will be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

Over the past year, Levine, 64, has has led Pennsylvania's response to the coronavirus pandemic. She is also known for spearheading Pennsylvania's medical marijuana program and for her efforts in battling the opioid crisis; in addition to penning medical research papers about LGBTQ medicine and eating disorders.

Levine is also a pediatrics and psychiatry professor at Penn State College of Medicine. She graduated from Harvard College and the Tulane University School of Medicine and completed her training in Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine at the Mt. Sinai Medical Center in New York City.

"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 on Tuesday, Jan. 19, the day before his inauguration. "She is a historic and deeply qualified choice to help lead our administration's health efforts."

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris' 2021 Inauguration in Photos

Following the inauguration of Biden, Levine is expected to be confirmed by the Senate, which will be controlled by his Democratic party following the results of the 2020 presidential election. Levine is set to serve under Xavier Becerra, Biden's pick to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, and currently serves as California's attorney general. If confirmed himself by the Senate, he would be the first Latino to lead the department. The Senate recently began holding hearings to confirm Biden's cabinet picks.

Rachel Levine
Rachel Levine

Levine, a divorced parent of two, speaks nationally on LGBTQ health issues and visibility at Penn State's School of Medicine and established a LGBTQ staff group and served as facilitator for the LGBTQ student group, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported. Over the past year, while managing Pennsylvania's fight against COVID-19, Levine has been the target of transphobic attacks from elected officials, business owners, and on social media, the newspaper said.

Upon her confirmation, Levine is set to join what is poised to become the most diverse U.S. cabinet in history. Earlier this month, Biden said in a speech in Delaware, "Twenty-four outstanding women and men who will get our country moving again, who will restore trust in our government again, and who are ready to go on Day One. This is a Cabinet that looks like America."

"This will be the first Cabinet ever that is evenly composed of women and men," he continued. "It will be the first Cabinet ever with a majority of people of color. It has more than a dozen history-making appointments, including the first woman Treasury Secretary, the first African American Defense Secretary, the first openly gay Cabinet member, the first Native American Cabinet secretary."

Biden has nominated Janet Yellen—the former head of the U.S. Federal Reserve, as treasury secretary; retired Gen. Lloyd Austin as defense secretary; former presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, who is openly gay, as transportation secretary; and New Mexico Congresswoman Deb Haaland, a member of the Laguna Pueblo tribe, as interior secretary.

In addition Biden has named an all-female communications team, which includes former Obama State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki as White House press secretary and campaign spokeswoman Kate Bedingfield as communications director.