As Transgender Day of Visibility is celebrated, it’s perhaps never been more urgent to have a day like this to honor and recognize the bravery, fortitude, and contributions of the trans community.
Possibly the most visible trans person in 2023 is Dr. Rachel Levine, the assistant secretary for health in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the highest-ranking transgender person in the history of the federal government.
There’s that and the fact that Levine became the first out transgender four-star officer in any of the country's eight uniformed services. In 2021, Levine was sworn in as an admiral — the highest-ranking official of the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. Last year, she was named one of USA Today’s 12 Women of the Year.
As assistant secretary for health, Levine’s job overall is to improve the health and well-being of all Americans. This month, she made news by affirming that gender-affirming care for youth has the "highest support" of the Biden administration. She also promised that such care would be normalized.
While Levine was on the road doing her job in Kansas City, she talked about why this day of visibility is so important.
“To me, as a transgender person, this day is all about hope," she said. "It’s so important for those of us who are transgender to be visible and open and to hopefully inspire hope for those in our community who are facing so many challenges right now. We’re making progress slowly, but much more needs to be done, particularly for our trans seniors, immigrants, people of color, and of course right now for trans youth. But today, it’s all about hope.”
For her, it’s important to be visible.
“I transitioned 12 years ago while I was at Penn State’s College of Medicine as a teacher, and then in 2015 when Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf nominated me to be the state’s physician general and later its secretary of health," she said. "Now I’m much more visible as assistant health secretary. It’s important for me to serve as an advocate for trans people and the family and friends who support them.”
It’s critically important that the trans community now has so much support at the federal level, Levine added. She explained that President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and the entire administration support trans rights.
“I’m proud to be out and to be part of this administration; however, we all realize there’s so much more that needs to be done.”
That's particularly on the state and local levels, where many anti-trans bills have been passed or are pending, which is why it’s vital to collectively fight back, she said. “We need to stand together and with the broader LGBTQ+ community and stand with our trans and nonbinary individuals. Strength is in numbers, and we need to work together to change wrong and dangerous perceptions.”
For Levine, that means changing hearts and minds.
“We need to go from schoolteacher to schoolteacher, from school board to school board, from county commissioners to county commissioners. We need to be living our lives and showing them who we are. Make no mistake, the right and conservatives are using us right now for political purposes. They think they gain an advantage by demonizing us, but I don’t think these discriminatory laws will stand. I think the wheels will start to eventually turn, and justice will win out. It will take time, but if we work with our allies, we can make it happen.”
To get her job done, Levine said she's learned that she has to redirect the hate she faces as a trans woman in America.
“I have learned well from my clincial training, and part of that is compartmentalized,” Levin said. “And I also learned that as a practicing pediatrician, that it’s important to compartmentalize your feelings so you can do your job effectively. But any of the hate only makes me more enthusiastic about confronting the challenges ahead and only makes me more determined to advocate for fairness for our community.”