Dr. Rachel Levine, nominated by President Biden to be undersecretary of health, is the first openly transgender federal official confirmed by the Senate, and her nomination has been hailed by advocates of transgender rights.
But Dr. Levine’s confirmation hearing turned briefly combative Thursday, when Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, opened his questioning of the nominee with a tirade about “genital mutilation” and a demand to know if she supported the surgery. of gender reassignment and hormonal therapy for minors. (An earlier version of this post contained misinformation about the day of the hearing.)
“Are you willing to let a minor take things that prevent puberty and do you think they get it back?” Paul, who is an ophthalmologist, said at one point. “You give a woman enough testosterone to grow a beard, do you think she’ll look like a woman again when you stop taking testosterone?”
Dr. Levine calmly replied that “transgender medicine is a very complex and nuanced field with solid research and standards of care” that she would be happy to discuss with him.
The standoff exposed the profound change Washington is undergoing as President Biden takes office, undoing the policies of his predecessor, former President Donald J. Trump, who worked aggressively to undermine the rights of transgender people. Biden, by contrast, seeks to make his administration more welcoming to the LGBTQ community.
Biden has repealed Trump’s ban on transgender people serving in the military. LGBTQ references are now commonplace, and visitors to the White House website are now being asked if they want to provide their pronouns when they fill out a contact form: she / she, he / he or they / they.
And as the Senate hearing unfolded, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Majority Leader, called a press conference to ask Congress to adopt the Equality Act. , which would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include protections for LGBTQ people.
Since Mr. Biden nominated her, Dr. Levine has been subject to attacks on social media and conservative media that have claimed, without evidence, that he has advocated for gender reassignment surgery for minors, which is not generally performed in the United States.
Dr. Levine, a pediatrician who previously focused on eating disorders and adolescent mental health, was also the liaison for the LGBTQ community for the Office of Diversity at Penn State School of Medicine.
His detractors have seized upon a speech he made in 2017 describing hormone therapy as a standard of care for transgender youth, and also in a tweet he posted in January 2020 about a study showing that transgender youth with access to medication Puberty blockers have a lower risk of suicide.
“This study is important because it is the first to show this specific association”, Dr. Levine wrote.
No other Republicans followed Mr. Paul’s line of questions, and Democrats briefly ignored his comments until Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington, who chaired the hearing, stepped in to praise Dr. Levine for her “thoughtful and medically informed. “Ms Murray added:” It is really critical to me that our nominees are treated with respect and our questions focus on their qualifications and the job ahead, rather than ideological and harmful misrepresentations like the ones we hear from Senator Paul. “.