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US Senate confirms openly transgender to key health post

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The US Senate in a first, confirmed an openly trans-woman doctor to be the nation’s assistant secretary of health. Levine had been serving as Pennsylvania’s top health official since 2017. Levine, who has been at the forefront of the state’s fight against COVID-19 will be overseeing Health and Human Services offices and programs across the US.

Transgender-rights activists have hailed Levine’s appointment as a historic breakthrough.

In January, when President Joe Biden nominated Levine, a paediatrician and former Pennsylvania physician general, he said, 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.”

Levine faced some tough questions on puberty blockers and hormone treatment for young transgender people during her confirmation hearing on February 25. Levine in the past has asserted that puberty-blocking drugs can be valuable medical tools in sparing some transgender youth from mental distress and possible suicide risk.

At her confirmation hearing, Levine was asked by Republican Pennsylvania Senator Rand Paul whether she thought “minors are capable of making such a life-changing decision as changing one’s sex?”

Republican Senator Pat Toomey voted against Levine’s confirmation. “In Pennsylvania, the pandemic struck seniors in nursing homes disproportionately hard compared to other states,” Toomey told AP. Toomey also said, lockdown advocated by Levine “was excessive, arbitrary in nature, and has led to a slower recovery”.

Levine is a graduate of Harvard and Tulane Medical School. She has written on the opioid crisis, medical marijuana, adolescent medicine, eating disorders and LGBTQ medicine. She is currently a professor at the Penn State College of Medicine.

Levine was the target of a private Facebook group called the Pittsburgh Area Police Breakroom whose group members fuelled days of transphobic posts about Levine for her role in statewide social-distancing mandates to stop the spread of COVID-19, an AP report reads.

The confirmation vote comes at a time when legislatures across the US are considering an unprecedented wave of bills targeting trans young people, including a bill that seeks to outlaw or restrict certain types of medical care for transgender youths. None of these has gained final approval.