Levine was confirmed Wednesday as the assistant health secretary
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Rachel Levine
Dr. Rachel Levine
| Credit: Caroline Brehman-Pool/Getty Images

Dr. Rachel Levine made history on Wednesday, becoming the country's highest-ranking openly transgender official after she was confirmed by the Senate for a top federal post.

Levine was confirmed by a 52-48 vote — with two Republican senators joining all 50 of their Democratic and independent colleagues — as the next assistant secretary of the Health and Human Services Department.

"I will not be the last," Levine, 63, said in a statement to The New York Times. "When I assume this position, I will stand on the shoulders of those who came before — people we know throughout history and those whose names we will never know because they were forced to live and work in the shadows."

The incoming assistant health secretary is a pediatrician who, since 2017, has been Pennsylvania's top health official, helping lead the state through the COVID-19 pandemic.

She is expected to oversee the department's offices and programs across the country, the Associated Press reports.

President Joe Biden nominated Levine in mid-February, saying in a statement at the time that the Harvard University grad "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."

"She is a historic and deeply qualified choice to help lead our administration's health efforts," Biden, 78, said then.

Rachel Levine
Dr. Rachel Levine
| Credit: Joe Hermitt/The Patriot-News via AP

Levine's confirmation, which had been opposed by social conservatives, was celebrated by civil rights groups around the country as a new step in representation.

"Trans people are leaders, innovators and change-makers — and we deserve a seat at every table," the Human Rights Campaign, the country's leading LGBTQ civil rights group, tweeted.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf said he "couldn't be prouder" of Levine. "The nation is lucky to have her strength, experience, and compassion in this key role," the governor added.

Levine's nomination led to some moments of conflict with Republicans on Capitol Hill, amid a recent rise in political battles over transgender rights across the country.

The AP reports that the GOP has in at least 25 states recently introduced bills aimed at barring transgender women from participating in school sports. In at least 17 states, Republican lawmakers are pushing bills that would limit medical coverage for individuals who are transgender.

Rachel Levine
Dr. Rachel Levine
| Credit: Joe Hermitt/The Patriot-News vía AP

In one instance during Levine's confirmation hearing, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul — a Republican who voted against her nomination — had asked the doctor whether she believed "that minors are capable of making such a life-changing decision as changing one's sex?"

Levine responded that she would be happy to work with Paul's office to provide more information on this topic, which she called a "very complex and nuanced field with robust research and standards of care."

Other anti-LGBTQ critics have been more direct, attacking Levine on social media in ugly personal terms.

After she was confirmed Wednesday, she touched on the criticism and discrimination she has and transgender youth continue to face across the country.

"I know that each and every day you confront many difficult challenges," she wrote in her one-page statement to the Times, addressing young people across the country who are transgender. "Sadly, some of the challenges you face are from people who would seek to use your identity and circumstance as a weapon."

Levine continued: "It hurts. I know. I cannot promise you that these attacks will immediately cease, but I will do everything I can to support you and advocate for you."