Dr. Rachel Levine is making more history.
Levine, the former Pennsylvania health secretary, was ceremonially sworn in Tuesday as a four-star admiral in the U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS) Commissioned Corps. Levine becomes the nation’s first openly transgender four-star officer across any of the uniformed services of the United States.
Earlier this year, President Joe Biden chose Levine to be the U.S. Assistant Secretary for Health. She also became the top ranking officer of the USPHS Commissioned Corps, which includes 6,000 officers that serve vulnerable and underserved groups. She’s also the first female officer to lead the corps.
The USPHS Commissioned Corps helps deliver health care after emergencies and natural disasters and has been part of the effort to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. The corps isn’t a military branch but it is one of eight uniformed services in the U.S. government and the only one focused on public health.
Levine, 63, said she was “humbled” to be the first openly transgender four-star office of a uniformed service.
“This is a momentous occasion and I am honored to take this role for the impact I can make, and for the historic nature of what it symbolizes,” Levine said Tuesday.
“May this appointment be the first of many like it as we create a more inclusive future.”
After her swearing in, Levine said she recognizes she takes the role to defend the nation’s public health as it faces the greatest health threat in modern times. She also said she is grateful for LGTBQ pioneers who paved the way.
“The time is now for our country to continue to move the bar forward for diversity and I am proud to wear this uniform and answer that call,” Levine said.
U.S. Surgeon General and Vice Admiral Vivek Murthy said in a statement he is “grateful to work alongside a kind, principled leader like Admiral Levine.”
“Her appointment represents an important step towards a more inclusive future, and her service will undoubtedly advance the USPHS Commissioned Corps’ mission to protect, promote, and advance the health and safety of our nation,” Murthy said.
Levine spent years leading Pennsylvania’s health department and gained a higher profile with her work coordinating the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Biden brought Levine into her high-ranking role in his administration in January. The U.S. Senate confirmed her nomination to the federal post in March.
In an interview with PennLive in August, Levine said she sees herself as an advocate.
“I specifically see myself as an advocate for health equity,” Levine said. “Although I now have different priorities in office, we still have COVID-19, we still have an overdose crisis, and we have health equity as part of the portfolio. That includes health equity for the LGTBQ+ community. Advocating for equality and fairness and health equity for LGBTQ+ people is part of my role.”
Alison Beam succeeded Levine and continues to serve as Pennsylvania’s acting health secretary.
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