President Joe Biden’s Assistant Secretary for Health at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Dr. Rachel Levine, was named one of USA Today’s “women of the year.”
Levine, a transgender woman, was announced as one of the winners Sunday, in a profile that highlighted their status as the highest-ranking openly transgender official in the U.S. government. Levine was confirmed by the Senate in March 2021, becoming the first transgender person to be confirmed to such a position in history.
“In normal times, her job is essential. During a pandemic, it’s crucial,” the USA Today profile, written by Suzette Hackney, reads. “Beyond the pandemic, Levine said she is concerned about the challenges women and girls face related to body image. She ran an eating disorder program at Penn State University and was struck by the pressures of social media related to appearance.”
Levine is a pediatrician by training and served as the Secretary of Health for the state of Pennsylvania prior to joining HHS. They transitioned in 2011 and served on the board of Equality Pennsylvania, a pro-LGBT organization.
“Women are absolutely critical in terms of promoting healthy behaviors for themselves and their families and our communities,” Levine told USA Today upon receiving the award. “I think women are often the creators of change. In terms of the changes that we see in our society and our culture, I think that women are those change-makers.”
Levine came under fire during the COVID-19 pandemic for directing nursing homes to admit new patients in March 2020, including those who had previously had COVID-19, while simultaneously moving their own mother out of a nursing home. That decision, and the high death toll from COVID-19 in nursing homes, was thrust back into the spotlight during Levine’s confirmation process for HHS. (RELATED: ‘Hateful Conduct’: Twitter Locks Rep. Jim Banks Account For Calling Rachel Levine A Man)
“I think that we need to work as a culture in the United States, but also globally, to be more compassionate and more accepting of girls and women, no matter what their size and shape,” Levine said.