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Senate confirms Rachel Levine as assistant health secretary, 1st transgender official confirmed

The Senate on Wednesday confirmed Dr. Rachel Levine, who served most recently as Pennsylvania’s health secretary, as assistant secretary of health. The vote was 52 to 48, with Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) joining all 50 members of the Democratic caucus to back Levine, the first openly transgender official to win Senate confirmation and now the highest-ranking transgender person to serve in the federal government.

Levine, 63, is a pediatrician who was Pennsylvania’s physician general when Gov. Tom Wolf (D) nominated her for the state’s top health job in 2017. She won confirmation by the GOP-led state Senate and went on to lead Pennsylvania’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. President Biden has said Levine will also help steer the federal government through its coronavirus response. She “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,” Biden said when he nominated her in January.

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LGBTQ advocacy groups cheered Levine’s confirmation, coming at a time when many GOP-led state legislatures are considering or pushing through bills aimed at transgender youth. Her nomination was also opposed by a number of conservative religious advocacy groups.