Assistant Secretary for Health Dr. Rachel Levine has made history for the second time this year, becoming the first openly transgender four-star officer in all eight of the uniformed services, just months after becoming the first transgender person to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate by a federal office.
On Tuesday, Levine was sworn in as a four-star admiral in the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. She is also the first woman four-star admiral in the PHSCC, which aims to preserve and foster the health and safety of the general public.
Levine, who is the nation’s highest-ranking openly trans official, said she is “humbled to serve” in a statement from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
“This is a momentous occasion and I am pleased to take this role for the impact I can make, and for the historic nature of what it symbolizes,” she said. “May this appointment be the first of many like it as we create a more inclusive future.”
She added in an interview with LGBTQ Nation: “We have a unique opportunity with President Biden and Vice President Harris for equity, fairness, and inclusiveness for all aspects of life but especially for the LGBTQ community. I have always been proud to advocate for the LGBTQ community and serve as a role model that everything is possible and there are no limitations. I hope this really inspires LGBTQ youth.”
Since March, Levine has sought to improve the nation’s health, including efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. Before joining the HHS, she served as Pennsylvania’s health secretary, spearheading the state’s COVID-19 response and addressing issues such as maternal and LGBTQ health and the opioid and HIV/AIDS epidemics.
In her new role, Levine will lead a team of 6,000 officers, respond to public health crises and natural disasters and “build a stronger foundation for a healthier future,” according to a statement from HHS.
Although her elevation to four-star officer stoked conservative ire — as did her selection by President Biden earlier this year — Levine’s elevation to admiral was hailed by advocacy groups like GLAAD and healthcare leaders, as well as fellow administration officials.
HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra described Levine’s “historic appointment” as a “giant step towards equality as a nation.”
“Admiral Levine — a highly accomplished pediatrician who helps drive our agency’s agenda to boost health access and equity and to strengthen behavioral health — is a cherished and critical partner in our work to build a healthier America,” he said.
U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, who is a vice admiral of the PHSCC, said in a statement that he was “grateful to work alongside a kind, principled leader like Admiral Levine.”
“Her appointment represents an important step towards a more inclusive future, and her service will undoubtedly advance the USPHS Commissioned Corps’ mission to protect, promote, and advance the health and safety of our nation,” he said.
Levine’s appointment comes not only during LGBT History Month but at a time when trans people, particularly those of color, face numerous health disparities, including lack of access to quality care and an increased risk of HIV infection and chronic health conditions.
In an interview with NPR, Levine described her commissioning as part of the Biden administration’s commitment to diversity, inclusion and equity.
“I think this is symbolic of that commitment and for transgender youth and other transgender individuals that there are no glass ceilings and no limitation to what we can achieve,” she said.
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