Rachel Levine, nominated to be an assistant secretary at the Department of Health and Human Services, testifies before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee on Capitol Hill in Washington on Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. (Caroline Brehman/Pool via AP) Rachel Levine
Rachel Levine, nominated to be an assistant secretary at the Department of Health and Human Services, testifies before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee on Capitol Hill in Washington on Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. (Caroline Brehman/Pool via AP)

Pennsylvania’s former Secretary of Health could be the first Senate-confirmed transgender official in the nation’s history.

WASHINGTON — Pennsylvania legislators are calling out US Sen. Rand Paul for bigoted comments during the Senate confirmation hearing of Dr. Rachel Levine.

President Joe Biden has nominated Levine, the former state Secretary of Health, to be the No. 2 official at the US Department of Health. If confirmed, she would be the first Senate-confirmed transgender official in the country’s history.

In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, Paul (R-Kentucky) neglected to ask Levine about her experience managing the pandemic in Pennsylvania; he instead compared transition surgery to female genital mutilation.

State Rep. Brian Sims, the co-chairperson of Pennsylvania’s LGBTQ Equality Caucus, called Paul a “bigot” and said he was “disgusted” with how Paul treated Levine.

“Despite his hateful and transphobic rantings and attempt to demean her during questioning, Dr. Levine did what she’s done time and time again, she answered his hate, bigotry and complete misinformation with the composure and the professionalism that he did not deserve,” Sims (D-Philadelphia) said in a news release. 

“While I am disgusted with how Dr. Levine was treated during the hearing today, I am beyond grateful that she has chosen a life of public service and we have such an exemplary role model for the trans youth that Senator Paul was attacking with his comments.”

Several other state leaders joined Sims in condemning Paul.

“I encourage Senator Paul to take time to unlearn his transphobic rhetoric because otherwise he cannot truly serve the public,” said state Sen. Katie Muth (D-Montgomery), another co-chairperson of the caucus.

State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta (D-Philadelphia) asked people not to share the video of Paul’s question.

It wasn’t just Pennsylvania politicians. US Sen. Patty Murray (D-Washington) seemed fed up with Paul’s act. 

She addressed Levine after Paul’s comments: “I appreciated your thoughtful and medically-informed response to Sen. Paul’s questions earlier in the hearing. It is really critical to me that our nominees be treated with respect and that our questions focus on their qualifications and the work ahead of us rather than on ideological and harmful misrepresentations like those we heard from Sen. Paul earlier and I will focus on that as chair of this committee.”

And it’s not hard to focus on Levine’s resume, said Adrian Shanker, executive director of Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center in Allentown.

“Dr. Levine is impeccably qualified and is ready to go to work to improve public health for the American people. She provided medically-informed, evidence-based answers to questions during her confirmation hearing,” Shanker said. “Unfortunately, Senator Rand Paul chose to use today’s hearing as an opportunity to spread misinformation about the health needs of LGBTQ youth. His hurtful and harmful questions notwithstanding, we know that Dr. Levine will base all her decisions on the best science available and will prioritize health equity.” 

Gov. Tom Wolf appointed Levine to lead the state Department of Health in 2017, and he has praised her leadership in the role.

Before Levine led the state Department of Health, she was the Physician General for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for two years.

Levine also has served as the Vice Chairperson for Clinical Affairs at the Department of Pediatrics at Penn State Hershey.

Levine graduated from Harvard College and Tulane University School of Medicine. She completed her training at Mt. Sinai Medical Center in New York City.

Levine is the president of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.

Paul was the first US senator to catch the coronavirus and has repeatedly come under fire for not wearing masks in public.