President-elect Joe Biden announced Tuesday he had chosen Dr. Rachel Levine to serve as the assistant secretary of health for the Department of Health and Human Services.
Levine, born Richard Levine, is an openly transgender individual and would mark the first transgender official confirmed by the United States Senate, if approved.
Levine is currently the Secretary of Health for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, in charge of the local response to the coronavirus pandemic.
“She is a historic and deeply qualified choice to help lead our administration’s health efforts,” Biden said in a statement, praising Levine’s “steady leadership and essential expertise.”
Levine served as a controversial public official in Pennsylvania leveling business and restaurant lockdowns and bans and defending them as a critical way to stop the spread of the virus.
Levine drew criticism for months for allowing “stable” coronavirus patients to be returned to nursing homes during the pandemic, receiving blame for the virus skyrocketing among the elderly in those facilities.
In May, Levine was called out for moving her own mother out of a nursing home facility despite the department’s guidance to admit “stable” patients who had contracted the virus.
Levine also repeatedly accused critics of transphobia, as Levine publicly identified as a female rather than his biological gender as a male.
In May, Levine interrupted a press conference asking a reporter to not “misgender” him after the reporter addressed him as “sir.”
In July, Levine complained of “multiple incidents of LGBTQ harassment and specifically transphobia.”
“I want to emphasize, that while these individuals think that they are only expressing their displeasure with me, they are, in fact, hurting the thousands of LGBTQ Pennsylvanians who suffer directly from these current demonstrations of harassment,” Levine said.
“Your actions perpetuate the spirit of intolerance and discrimination against LGBTQ individuals and specifically transgender individuals,” Levine continued.
Levine called for Pennsylvanians to work on fostering a spirit of acceptance toward transgender people and encouraged young people to feel accepted.
“Our children are watching. They are watching what we do, and they are watching how we act,” he said. “And to all LGBTQ young people it is okay to be you.”