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Rachel Levine appointed nation's first Transgender four-star admiral

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Dr. Rachel Levine is sworn in by Surgeon General Vivek Murthy — Photo courtesy of Reuters
Dr. Rachel Levine is sworn in by Surgeon General Vivek Murthy — Photo courtesy of Reuters

US Assistant Secretary for Health Rachel Levine became the first openly Transgender four-star admiral in a swearing-in ceremony on October 19.

She is also the country's highest-ranking openly Transgender government official.

Dr. Rachel L. Levine — Photo courtesy of U.S. Department of Health & Human Services  

Although she was not previously connected with the US military, Levine was sworn in as an officer of the US Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, a uniformed branch of the US government that is charged with responding to public health crises.

The corps has been assigned to help administer COVID vaccines, for example, and also to respond in cases of natural disasters like hurricanes.

Levine is also the corps' first female four-star admiral. A four-star rank is normally the country's highest uniformed rank, and is equivalent to the rank of officers serving on the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Before being appointed to the Biden administration, Levine was Pennsylvania state health secretary.

In an interview, Levine said that her new position as an admiral was "not just symbolic," and that she would now have a leading role in shaping the public health corps' priorities.

"I'm doing this because of my dedication to service... [and] with the utmost respect and honor for the uniform that I will be wearing," Levine said, adding she would begin wearing the corps' blue uniform immediately.

Administration officials stressed the significance of Levine's elevation to admiral, praising President Biden's commitment to diversity and noting that the ceremony will occur during LGBTQ History Month.

"Admiral Levine's historic appointment as the first openly transgender four-star officer is a giant step forward toward equality as a nation," HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement.

Levine has been targeted by right-wing advocacy groups and politicians, who charged that her appointment was a political gesture by Biden.

At Levine's confirmation hearing to serve as assistant secretary for health, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) tried to draw a connection between genital mutilation and transition-related care, which prompted stern rebukes from Democratic senators.

"I am not worried," Levine said about the backlash from the right. "I'm such a strong proponent of diversity, equity, and inclusion... and we have a president that is such a strong advocate of diversity, equity, and inclusion as well."

The public health corps traces its history back to 1798, but the service was formally established by Congress in 1889.