EDITORIAL: Equity, Pa.’s Levine under assault in D.C.

York Dispatch editorial board
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. (Tom Brenner/Pool via AP)

If one of the qualifications for overseeing the nation’s public health system amid a global pandemic is remaining calm under fire, Pennsylvania’s Dr. Rachel Levine passed the test during her Senate Confirmation hearings last week. 

Levine, President Biden’s nominee for assistant secretary of health at the Department of Health and Human Services, was forced to endure inflammatory and, frankly, ignorant questioning at the hands of Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky. 

Combatting the global coronavirus pandemic, which steamrolls into its second year with more than half a million American fatalities in its wake, would seem to be the prevailing topic of inquiry for an HHS nominee (and, for most senators, it was). But Paul had other, um, preoccupations on his mind as he questioned Levine, the first openly transgender official to be nominated for federal office. 

After erroneously equating sexual reassignment surgery with genital mutilation (a human rights violation), Paul falsely accused Levine of supporting “surgical destruction of a minor’s genitalia” before asking if she endorsed “the government intervening to override the parents’ consent to give a child puberty-blockers, cross-sex hormones, and/or amputation of breasts and genitalia?” 

It was a bizarre, contentious, transphobic rant — but one that Levine, Pennsylvania’s former secretary of health, withstood stoically. 

“Transgender medicine is a very complex and nuanced field with robust research and standards of care that have been developed,” she told Paul. “If I’m fortunate enough to be confirmed as the assistant secretary of health, I will look forward to working with you and your office and coming to your office to discuss the particulars of the standards of care for transgender medicine.” 

Paul didn’t sound interested in the particulars. He was too busy breaking into histrionics as he repeatedly pressed Levine on whether she believes minors should be able to make decisions on gender transitioning, at one point insisting, “If you’ve ever been around children — 14-year-olds cannot make this decision.” 

Levine, as the Washington Post’s Monica Hesse points out, “is a pediatrician who created the Penn State Hershey Medical Center’s adolescent medicine division.” So, yes, she’s seen a few kids in her day. 

If Paul’s hope was to undermine Levine’s nomination, or even throw her off balance, he failed miserably. What he succeeded at was spotlighting the transphobia that seems to be infecting the Republican Party. He was not alone last week. 

On the other side of the Capitol, QAnon congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia had a few things to say as the House debated a bill to broaden protections of LGBTQ individuals. They weren’t pretty. 

The Equality Act would prohibit discrimination in housing, employment and education based on sexual orientation and gender identity. That’s what Greene doesn’t like about it.  

“The Equality Act … will put trans rights above women’s rights,” Greene maintained. She then wove a scenario worthy of the conspiracist she is: “Biological women” and “little girls” forced to compete in sports against “biological men” and “little boys” who will then turn up in their locker rooms, their hotel rooms and their showers. These “transmen,” as she calls them (who, in the real world, have transitioned to women but never mind) will also haunt women’s prisons, “battered women’s shelters” and drug-abuse treatment centers. 

It was quite performance: A five-minute diatribe in support of discrimination against LGBTQ Americans that included the line, “There should not be discrimination of anyone in the United States of America.” 

Green punctuated her message later in the day by hanging an anti-transgender sign outside her office — a none-too-subtle response to her neighbor across the hall, Rep. Marie Newman, D-Ill., who supports the bill and hung a flag outside her door in support of a daughter who is transgender.  

The House ultimately passed the bill. The Senate should likewise move forward with Levine’s confirmation.  

Let the GOP wallow in its transphobic hysteria. The rest of America needs to move forward.