U.S. Sen. Rand Paul delivered an anti-transgender rant Thursday at the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing on the nomination of Dr. Rachel Levine to be assistant secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.
Levine, who has recently headed the Pennsylvania Department of Health, would be the first openly transgender person confirmed by the Senate if the body OK’s her nomination. She’s a respected physician who’s led her state’s COVID-19 response, while enduring misgendering and transphobia. Paul, a Republican from Kentucky, has now added to the latter, just a few weeks after, in another hearing, condemning transgender student athletes.
He opened by likening gender-confirmation surgery to female genital mutilation, which is widely condemned and, unlike gender-confirmation surgery, not performed for a medical purpose. He then pressed Levine, a pediatrics specialist, on gender transition procedures for minors. He claimed Levine has supported not only the use of puberty blockers, which are indeed given to minors with gender dysphoria, but also “the surgical destruction of a minor’s genitalia,” when in fact the standard of care is not to perform genital surgery on people under 18.
“Dr. Levine, do you believe that minors are capable of making such a life-changing decision as changing one’s sex?” Paul said.
“Transgender medicine is a very complex and nuanced field with robust research and standards of care that have been developed,” Levine responded. “If I am 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 and discussing the particulars of the standards of care for transgender medicine.”
Paul contended that puberty blockers cause permanent changes, even though medical professionals say their effects are completely reversible once a person stops taking them, and expressed concern that the U.S. is now “normalizing” their use. He also quoted the American College of Pediatricians as saying most young people with gender dysphoria eventually settle comfortably into the gender they were assigned at birth; the organization is actually small and ultraconservative, and the Southern Poverty Law Center considers it an anti-LGBTQ+ hate group. He went on to cite the story of a British trans woman who regrets her transition (an uncommon outcome).
He later tweeted video of their exchange, with the comment that Levine “refuses to answer my question about whether the government should override a parent’s consent to allow a minor to receive puberty blockers or surgical amputation of breasts or genitalia.” Several states are considering legislation that would ban doctors from administering gender-confirmation procedures to minors, even though, as noted, the standard of care is not to perform genital surgery on people under 18. Paul’s statement doesn’t quite fit with his supposed libertarian leanings against government intervention in various aspects of life.
Several Democrats lambasted Paul’s line of questioning. Sen. Patty Murray of Washington State said to Levine, “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.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer then voiced his objections at a press conference ahead of the U.S. House vote on the Equality Act, a comprehensive LGBTQ+ civil rights bill. He did not name anyone but denounced the “despicable comments made by a few Republicans about trans people,” CNN reports. “Their attacks on trans people and the transgender community are just mean. Mean,” the New York Democrat continued. “And show a complete lack of understanding, complete lack of empathy. They don’t represent our views and they don’t represent the views of a majority of Americans. Their despicable comments just make my blood boil with anger. If I didn’t have a mask, you could see my teeth gritting.”
The LGBTQ Victory Institute, which provides training and support to elected and appointed public officials from the community, released a statement condemning Paul. “Rand Paul chose devotion to anti-LGBTQ extremist groups over substance and the health of our nation — and does not deserve to hold public office,” said Victory Institute President Ruben Gonzales. “His remarks echo the talking points of the same organizations who said gay men deserved AIDS and that LGBTQ people should be criminalized. He explicitly attacked vulnerable trans youth for his own perceived political gain and it was a disgrace. Dr. Levine is an extremely qualified nominee whose experience can help America effectively tackle this pandemic, but he took this opportunity to give voice to hate groups instead.” Other LGBTQ+ groups, including the Human Rights Campaign and SAGE, urged quick confirmation for Levine, as did Murray.
Watch the exchange below.