Joe Biden picks trans coronavirus hero Rachel Levine for crucial health role in historic first

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Rachel Levine has been named Joe Biden’s pick for assistant secretary of health, putting her on track to become the first openly trans federal official confirmed by the Senate.

The US president-elect announced Tuesday (19 January) that he will tap Pennsylvania’s secretary of health Rachel Levine for a key role in his administration.

Biden described Levine, a trans woman, as a defiant figure whose decades-long medical experience signalled the incoming administration’s prioritisation of diversity and expertise.

“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.”

Rachel Levine is a trans trailblazer.

Rachel Levine’s nomination represents a long sought-after leap in political representation for the embattled trans community, and a tremendous turning point in a country that has witnessed the Trump’s administration years-long attacks against LGBT+ rights as well as surging rates of transphobic violence.

Shattering barriers is, after all, practically a hobby of the medical pioneer, who was first appointed to her current post as state health secretary by Democratic governor Tom Wolf in 2017 – becoming one of the few trans people in the country to hold an elected or appointed position.

A paediatrician and former physician general, Levine led Pennsylvania through the opioid crisis only to emerge at the forefront of the coronavirus fight.

She has drawn praise for her informative daily briefings which made her the public face of the pandemic for many Pennsylvanians as well as her resilience in the face of transphobia from local reporters and councillors.

As assistant secretary of health, Levine, who won the PinkNews Award for Frontline Hero last year, will become a key advisor to the Department of Health and Social Services. Likely translating her plain-speaking public health playbook of vigilant mask-wearing into a nationwide strategy to battle against the pandemic.

If confirmed she will assume the position from Brett Giroir, who was appointed by Donald Trump in 2017.