History in the making: U.S welcomes its first openly transgender health secretary

Dr. Rachel Levine inspires LGBTQ+ youth with her new high-ranked position.

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Photo courtesy of The Philadelphia Magazine

As America’s first official transgender female Secretary of Health, Rachel Levine promised to fight for the voices of LGBTQ+ youth: “These are vulnerable youth who have suffered bullying and harassment, and we need to protect them and advocate for them not to have discriminatory laws passed against them.”

Enjelica Sangster, Staff Writer

Representation is important because it creates an inclusive society, and paves the way for future generations. By becoming the first openly transgender official, Rachel Levine is not only making history but also paving the way for the many other LGBTQ+ youth. 

Levine was born in Wakefield, Massachusetts on October 28, 1957. She enrolled in an all-male private school and participated in both the hockey and football teams. As Levine grew older, she began to have ‘conflicted feelings’ in regards to her gender. 

When describing her feelings as a child, Levine stated “All I knew is I wanted to be a girl, or [that] I was a girl or female.”

In an attempt to deal with these feelings, Levine channeled her unease into schoolwork and extracurriculars–which allowed her to excel academically.  

“I compartmentalized it,” Levine explained. “There was no other context to put it in. It’s not like there was an alternative. So I fit in.”

As a result of her hard work, Levine graduated from Harvard University as well as the University of Tulane with the goal of becoming a pediatrician. By 1993, she had completed her pediatrics training at the Mt. Sinai Medical Center and joined the faculty of Mt. Sinai School of Medicine. 

Levine then traveled to Central Pennsylvania and became the director of Ambulatory Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine at the Polyclinic Medical Center. Due to her immense experience, Levine became a part of the staff board at the Penn State Hershey Medical Center in 1996 as the director of Pediatric Ambulatory Services and Adolescent Medicine. 

During her time in this position, Levine initiated the Division of Adolescent Medicine. This division provided care for complex teens with medical and psychological problems. Additionally, she established the Penn State Hershey Eating Disorders Program which provides multidisciplinary treatment for children, adolescents, and adults with different eating disorders. 

“These programs are such a necessity in society,” commented junior Sarah Garfield. “Doctor Levine is providing so many children with the proper care that they need.”

Levine continued to rise through the ranks, and soon became a facilitator for LGBTQ+ groups. At this point in her life, she had accomplished a plethora of things: a career at the top of her field, a wife, and two children. However, she still continued to feel unease with her persona. For most of her life, she had spent ignoring these feelings, yet they still became such prevalent thoughts in the back of her mind. 

In the early 2000s, Levine attended therapy as well as TransCentralPA– a support and advocacy group for transgender people–meetings. Her transition from Richard Levine to Rachel Levine was calculated and full of research. She first told her close friends and family about her transition–to which they easily accepted. Levine started to grow out her hair, and a couple of years later in 2011 she publicly announced herself as a transgender woman.

“When it comes down to this,” emphasized Levine. “I decided to live my life with no secrets.”

After finally feeling able to be her true self, Levine felt even more accomplished. However to add to her accomplishments, in 2014 Levine became the top doctor at Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, and she served on the board of the Equality Pennsylvania Statewide Gay Rights group. 

In 2015, Governor Tom Wolf asked Levine to co-chair his transition team for health and then a year later he asked her to serve as the physician general to which she accepted. In this position, Levine worked to improve access to healthcare for the LGBTQ+ community. She did not shy away from the topic of diversity within healthcare and universities. 

“I think it is amazing that transgender people are able to obtain high-ranked opportunities,” said sophomore Seyda Elsammani. “It is inspiring and it shows other members of the LGBTQ+ community that they are able to achieve their goals as well.”

Governor Wolf moved Levine to State Secretary of Health in 2018. She led Pennsylvania’s response to COVID-19. As a result of her immense experience and expertise, President Joe Biden nominated Levine as the assistant health secretary–making her the first openly transgender, Senate-confirmed federal official in U.S history. 

In this position, she will oversee “the Department’s key public health offices and programs, a number of Presidential and Secretarial advisory committees, 10 regional health offices across the nation, and the Office of the Surgeon General and the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps,” according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Ms. Levine plans on paving the future by providing mass Coronavirus testing in elderly homes, giving information to the American people about the ongoing pandemic, and continuing to fight for the future of transgender youth in their unfortunate battle with the government for basic healthcare needs. Rachel truly is a hero in the eyes of all, especially in the eyes of transgender youth who plan on having a future in the government or changing the world in some other form.

“As an openly transgender woman and a proud member of our community, I hopefully educate people that LGBTQ+ people are here,” explained Levine. “We’re part of the community and we are really trying to work towards the common good.

 

The following links provide even more information about the inspirational Dr. Rachel Levine:

https://apnews.com/article/rachel-levine-health-secretary-4eee53439e9c2b4c27fcf4e7f572cb0e

https://www.vox.com/identities/22242177/rachel-levine-appointment-biden-hhs-transgender