In this screenshot of a Jan. 4 press conference, Pennsylvania’s Department of Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine gives an update on that state’s COVID-19 numbers.
WASHINGTON — Pennsylvania’s former top health official, Dr. Rachel Levine, moved one step closer on Wednesday to becoming the highest-ranking openly transgender official in the federal government.
The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee voted 13-9 to advance Levine’s nomination to serve as assistant secretary of Health and Human Services for a vote by the full Senate. The panel’s 11 Democrats were joined by two Republicans — Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — in support of Levine’s nomination.
Sen. Patty Murray, (D-Wash.), the committee’s chairwoman, described Levine in a statement after the vote as “a highly qualified nominee who is not only critical to our pandemic response but would also make history as the highest-ranking openly transgender official in the U.S. government.”
Levine graduated from Tulane’s medical school in 1983. Following her appointment as Pennsylvania’s physician general, she told Tulane News she was pleased to be seen as a role model for young people in the LGBTQ community. “I think that that”s an important role that I serve, but it”s not the only role that I serve and not really the primary role. My role is to help the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania with public health issues.”
During her confirmation hearing last month, Levine faced a tirade from Sen. Rand Paul, (R-Ky.), about gender-affirmation surgery for minors.
Paul attempted to draw a connection between female genital mutilation, a practice condemned as a human rights violation, with gender-affirmation surgery for transgender youth. He grew increasingly angry as he pressed Levine to agree that minors should not be allowed to make decisions on hormone therapy or gender-reassignment surgery.
Levine responded that transgender medicine is “a very complex and nuanced field, with robust research and standards of care.”
Several Democratic senators as well as LGBTQ advocates rebuked Paul over his aggressive questioning of Levine.
After Wednesday’s committee vote, Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David said in a statement that a Senate vote confirming Levine would be “a historic day for the LGBTQ community and our government.”
“At a time when the transgender community is facing an outright assault on their basic rights by state legislatures, it is ever more crucial to ensure that every voice is represented in our government,” David said.
Levine, 63, is a pediatrician who most recently served as Pennsylvania’s secretary of health. A graduate of Harvard College and the Tulane University School of Medicine, she completed her training in pediatrics and adolescent medicine at the Mt. Sinai Medical Center in New York City.
As Pennsylvania’s top health official when the pandemic began last year, Levine held daily public briefings in which she detailed the daily data on COVID-19 infections and deaths.
During her tenure, Levine also was part of an effort by Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration to combat rising opioid overdoses. She signed a standing order that makes the overdose-reversal drug naloxone available at most pharmacies without a prescription.
In addition to voting on Levine’s nomination, the Senate panel also advanced the nomination of Dr. Vivek Murthy to be U.S. surgeon general.
The full Senate is expected to vote this week on Xavier Becerra, President Joe Biden’s pick to lead the Department of Health and Human Services.
A date has not yet been announced for the vote on Levine’s nomination.
Louisiana Illuminator Editor Jarvis DeBerry contributed to this report.
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