- The Magazine
U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) attacked Rachel Levine, President Biden’s nominee to be assistant secretary of health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, over her support for transition-related care
During Levine’s confirmation hearings on Thursday, Paul attacked the current Pennsylvania Secretary of Health over her previously stated support of gender-affirming transition-related care for transgender youth suffering from severe gender dysphoria.
In questioning Levine, who is transgender, Paul regurgitated talking points circulated on right-wing websites and later picked up by some talk radio stations, mischaracterizing Levine’s support of gender-affirming care for youth suffering from gender dysphoria and lambasting the idea that some youth may eventually undergo surgical interventions.
Repeatedly referring to gender confirmation surgery as “genital mutilation,” Paul ranted that “American culture is now normalizing the idea that minors can be given hormones to prevent their biological development of their secondary sexual characteristics.”
He also cited statistics from the right-wing American College of Pediatricians, which has advocated for bills in several states to block transgender youth from accessing gender-affirming care and penalize doctors who prescribe gender-affirming treatments.
Paul took issue with past statements from Levine supporting the use of puberty blockers to delay puberty for youth experiencing gender dysphoria, asking her: “Do you believe that minors are capable of making such a life changing decision as changing one’s sex?”
Levine replied: “Well, Senator, thank you for your interest in this question. Transgender medicine is a very complex and nuanced field with robust research and standards of care that have been developed. And if I am fortunate enough to be confirmed as the assistant secretary of health, I look forward to working with you and your office, and coming to your office and discussing the particulars of the standards of care for transgender medicine.”
Paul balked at Levine’s answer, pressing her to answer the question.
“Since you evaded the question, do you support the government intervening to override the parent’s consent to give a child puberty blockers, cross sex hormones and or amputation surgery of breasts and genitalia? You have said that you’re willing to accelerate the protocols for street kids. I’m alarmed that poor kids with no parents who are homeless and distraught, you would just go through this and allow that to happen to a minor,” Paul said.
“…What I’m alarmed at is that you’re not willing to say absolutely, minors shouldn’t be making decisions to amputate their breast or to amputate their genitalia. For most of our history, we believe that minors don’t have full rights and the parents need to be involved.
“So I’m alarmed that you won’t say with certainty that minors should not have the ability to make the decision to take hormones that will affect them for the rest of their life. Will you make a more firm decision on whether or not minors should be involved in these decisions?”
Levine calmly responded: “Senator, transgender medicine is a very complex and nuanced field, and if confirmed to the position of assistant secretary of health, I would certainly be pleased to come to your office and talk with you and your staff about the standards of care and the complexity of this field.”
Paul then continued, ranting about the effects of hormones and complaining about Democrats’ hypocrisy for criticizing the use of hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID but not objecting to the “off-label” use of puberty blockers before walking away as his time expired.
HELP Committee Chair Patty Murray (D-Wash.) later apologized to Levine for Paul’s treatment of her.
“I do want to say I appreciated your thoughtful and medically-informed response to Senator Paul’s questions earlier in the hearing,” Murray said. “It is really critical to me that our nominees be treated with respect and that our questions focus on their qualifications and the work ahead of us rather than on ideological and harmful misrepresentations like those we heard from Senator Paul earlier.”
A request for comment from the White House Press Office was not returned as of publication.
LGBTQ advocates denounced Paul’s line of questioning, calling it a transphobic attack against Levine.
“Rand Paul chose devotion to anti-LGBTQ extremist groups over substance and the health of our nation — and does not deserve to hold public office,” Ruben Gonzales, the executive director of LGBTQ Victory Institute, said in a statement. “His remarks echo the talking points of the same organizations who said gay men deserved AIDS and that LGBTQ people should be criminalized.
“He explicitly attacked vulnerable trans youth for his own perceived political gain and it was a disgrace. Dr. Levine is an extremely qualified nominee whose experience can help America effectively tackle this pandemic, but he took this opportunity to give voice to hate groups instead.”
The Human Rights Campaign defended Levine’s qualifications to be assistant secretary of health, and demanded that she be confirmed by the Senate.
“Today, Dr. Rachel Levine has proven she is more than qualified to serve as Assistant Health Secretary at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,” HRC President Alphonso David said in a statement.
“Levine’s record of accomplishment as a public health leader is unquestionable. At a time when access to health care is a growing crisis for transgender and gender-nonconforming people, Dr. Levine has the empathy to understand the health needs of our diverse country and the skillset to improve them.”
North Carolina's largest private insurer, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, has announced it will cover gender-affirming facial surgery and voice therapy for transgender individuals who challenged its past denial of coverage for those procedures.
Transgender advocates with the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund challenged the existing insurance exclusion after two transgender policyholders were denied coverage for facial surgery and voice therapy. Following negotiations with those advocates, Blue Cross and Blue Shield updated its policy to allow coverage for those treatments if they are allowed under a patient's health benefit plan.
California has added five more Republican-led states to the list of places where state-funded travel is banned because of laws that discriminate against members of the LGBTQ community.
Speaking at a news conference on Monday, California Attorney General Rob Bonta (D) said that Florida, Arkansas, Montana, North Dakota, and West Virginia were being added to the list of states where government employee travel is forbidden, except under limited circumstances.
The addition of the five latest states brings the total number to 17, comprising more than one-third of all U.S. states.
On Saturday, Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough announce that the VA will be pushing for a rule change to allow transgender veterans to access gender-affirming health care, including gender confirmation surgery, that is deemed medically necessary.
Speaking at a Pride Month event for transgender veterans at the Orlando VA Healthcare System in Florida, McDonough promised to overcome the "dark history" of discrimination against the transgender community and take steps to ensure they can access the care they need.
McDonough's announcement marks a reversal from the Trump administration, which adopted a ban that resulted in the majority of transgender people being declared ineligible to serve in the military, a policy that was reversed by President Joe Biden soon after taking office earlier this year.
These are challenging times for news organizations. And yet it’s crucial we stay active and provide vital resources and information to both our local readers and the world. So won’t you please take a moment and consider supporting Metro Weekly with a membership? For as little as $5 a month, you can help ensure Metro Weekly magazine and MetroWeekly.com remain free, viable resources as we provide the best, most diverse, culturally-resonant LGBTQ coverage in both the D.C. region and around the world. Memberships come with exclusive perks and discounts, your own personal digital delivery of each week’s magazine (and an archive), access to our Member's Lounge when it launches this fall, and exclusive members-only items like Metro Weekly Membership Mugs and Tote Bags! Check out all our membership levels here and please join us today!