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.”
READ THIS STORY IN THE MAGAZINE
Despite some positive electoral victories as 2023 ended, last year was largely a rough one for members of the LGBTQ community, who found themselves targeted by various pieces of legislation, executive orders, and a resurgent right-wing political movement opposed to what it sees as “woke” ideas or values.
It was also the year that the nation’s top LGBTQ advocacy group, the Human Rights Campaign, declared a national state of emergency, citing efforts to roll back LGBTQ rights or restrict LGBTQ visibility and various freedoms, with Republican-led state legislatures serving as the primary aggressors.
Republican lawmakers who control the Ohio House of Representatives voted along party lines on January 10 to override the veto of a sweeping anti-transgender bill by Republican Gov. Mike DeWine.
The vote was 68 to 25.
The bill bans gender-affirming health treatments for transgender minors, penalizing doctors who prescribe puberty blockers or hormones to minors suffering from gender dysphoria.
The bill also prohibits transgender athletes from competing on teams that match their gender identity, with a particular focus on stopping transgender females from competing against cisgender females.
Nine Republican senators and a Republican-turned-independent who ground Oregon's legislative session to a halt by staging a walkout will not be permitted to run for re-election.
The ten senators staged the walkout to stop several bills from passing. The bills had been prioritized by the Democratic majority. In doing so, the Republican-led boycott denied the Senate a two-thirds quorum needed to move on with business.
The walkout was the longest in state history and the second-longest for any state legislature in the United States.
Chief among the bills Republicans were seeking to block was a sweeping "shield law" enabling doctors to treat patients seeking out abortion-related services and gender-affirming care. The law protects medical professionals from lawsuits originating in other states where abortion or access to gender-affirming care is banned.
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