The Biden administration said Tuesday it was burnishing its support for the LGBTQ community by swearing in Rachel Levine, an assistant health secretary, as the first openly transgender four-star officer across any of the eight uniformed services of the United States.
U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy held a ceremonial swearing-in for the top deputy to Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra who now will lead 6,000 officers in the U.S. Public Health Service with the rank of admiral.
“This is a momentous occasion and I am honored to take this role for the impact that I can make, and for the historic nature of what it symbolizes,” Adm. Levine said. “I stand on the shoulder of those LGBTQ-plus individuals who came before me, both those known and unknown.”
Mr. Becerra hailed the appointment as a “giant step forward towards equality as a nation,” while his agency noted the appointment coincides with “LGBTQ+ History Month.”
Adm. Levine also characterized the honor as a continuation of a family tradition of service in uniform, recounting her father’s efforts in the Air Force during World War II and uncles who also served.
“I now follow in their storied tradition of service,” she said.
Her appointment comes at a critical time for the public health service, which is supporting vaccinations and other efforts to combat the coronavirus that’s killed more than 726,000 Americans, and opioid and mental health crises that appear to have worsened amid the pandemic.
There are seven other uniformed services of the U.S., mostly in the military. They are the Army, the Marines Corps, the Navy, the Air Force, the Space Force, the Coast Guard and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Officer Corps.
Adm. Levine led Pennsylvania’s health department from 2017 to the start of 2021, meaning she played a critical role in the state’s early response to COVID-19.
“I will follow the science to build a healthier future where we work to create an environment in which no one is left behind,” Adm. Levine said of her new role. “The health of our nation is paramount, everyone should be treated with love, respect and compassion.”
GLAAD, a prominent LGBTQ group, offered congratulations in Twitter “on making history once again.”
Previously married to a woman, Adm. Levine is the parent of two and transitioned in 2011.
Adm. Levine‘s predecessor in the Trump administration, Brett Giroir, was a prominent figure at White House briefings on COVID-19 because he served as the nation’s virus-testing czar.