Will the next surgeon general be a transgender woman?

Dr. Rachel Levine
Dr. Rachel Levine Photo: PA Department of General Services

Will President-elect Joe Biden choose a transgender woman as the next U.S. Surgeon General? There’s a possibility.

Dr. Rachel Levine, Pennsylvania’s secretary of health, is being considered as a potential nominee. Dr. Levine has expertly navigated the coronavirus pandemic in her state while withstanding a deluge of far-right attacks and transphobic insults from both citizens and Republican politicians.

Related: Wearing a mask is unmanly (and other reasons female world leaders are better at fighting coronavirus)

The Surgeon General is nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate. If Republicans keep the Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he will delay or try to kill Biden’s nominations to fill key Cabinet roles – including the Surgeon General.

With coronavirus cases continuing to surge nationwide, Dr. Levine would be a natural pick for the position tasked with keeping Americans safe and healthy.

“I’m feeling very confident and very hopeful that we will see trans people serve in high-level roles in this administration,” Ruben Gonzales, vice president of LGBTQ Victory Institute and head of its presidential appointments initiative, said. “Dr. Rachel Levine has served Pennsylvania incredibly well as their secretary of health for a number of years, leading their response on COVID, and leading their response on the opioid crisis in Pennsylvania. I think someone like her is well-poised to serve at a high-level in a Biden administration.”

Gonzales says the organization has had informal conversations with Biden’s transition team.

The initiative provides incoming administrations with the names and backgrounds of qualified LGBTQ people that could serve in various government positions. The LGBTQ Victory Fund is nonpartisan and works to get queer people elected to office.

One of Dr. Levine’s biggest worries currently, she told LGBTQ Nation, is that people have politicized public health.

“I am very concerned that the public health response to COVID-19 has become politicized,” she said. “Wearing a mask is not a political issue or a partisan issue. It’s just a public health issue, and study after study has shown that wearing a mask when you’re in public can help prevent the spread of COVID-19, that social distancing can prevent the spread of COVID-19, using hand sanitizer and washing your hands can prevent the spread of this very contagious virus.”

“None of this is political, none of this should be partisan.”

“I do not view wearing a mask as a civil liberties issue,” she said. “It’s a public health issue and with our civil liberties come a responsibility to the common good.”

Levine said she absolutely believes there is reason to have hope.

“We will get through this,” she said. “This global pandemic has taught how interconnected we all are, and I think as we pull together in Pennsylvania, as we pull together in the nation and globally pull together, we will overcome COVID-19. I think we will learn lessons from this global pandemic that will help us in the future, and we will get through this together.”

With Trump supporters furiously demanding that they have the right to potentially infect strangers and loved ones with an infectious and deadly disease, Dr. Levine has been mocked frequently because she is transgender. Throughout it all though, she has been continually focused on saving lives.

In July, a Pennsylvania tavern apologized for a transphobic menu item designed to taunt Dr. Levine. And around the same time, a popular Pennsylvania fair, the Bloomsburg Fair, used a Dr. Levine “impersonator” (which was a man in a wig and a dress) in their dunk tank and published a mocking Facebook post about it.

Leaders of both the fair and tavern apologized, but Dr. Levine still felt it was important to address the transphobia directly at one of her daily briefings.

“I want to emphasize that while these individuals may think that they are only expressing their displeasure with me, they are in fact hurting the thousands of LGBTQ Pennsylvanians who suffered directly from these current demonstrations of harassment,” she said during her July 28 briefing. “Your actions perpetuate the spirit of intolerance and discrimination against LGBTQ individuals and specifically transgender individuals.”

She went on to address the continued suffering of LGBTQ people, adding, “Frankly, I do not have time for intolerance. My heart is full with a burning desire to help people. And my time is full with working toward protecting the public health.”

While the apologies are nice, she told LGBTQ Nation at the time, they’re meaningless if they aren’t followed up with action.

“I think that we need to continue to educate people about LGBTQ individuals,” she said. “We are just here, we’re part of the community. We are doctors, we are nurses, we are teachers. We work in restaurants. We work everywhere, and it’s our children. So I think if an apology means, ‘Okay, I apologize. This is all done,’ then it is insufficient.”

“We need people to continue to work on changing that harassment and discrimination that LGBTQ individuals face, and one way to do that is through education and advocacy. So I think if someone apologizes, it is incumbent upon them to advocate for the LGBTQ community.”

As surgeon general, Dr. Levine would be able to do just that – advocate for the LGBTQ community. And she would do it unapologetically.

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