January 26, 2015 at 4:37 pm EST | by Michael K. Lavers
Trans woman nominated to become Pa. physician general

Rachel Levine, gay news, Washington Blade

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf has nominated Dr. Rachel Levine to become the commonwealth’s next physician general. (Photo courtesy of Aimee Tysarczyk)

A Pennsylvania physician is poised to make history as the highest-ranking transgender person to ever hold a position within state government after Gov. Tom Wolf nominated her to become his physician general.

“I was thrilled,” Levine told the Washington Blade last week during a telephone interview as she discussed her reaction to Wolf’s decision to nominate her on Jan. 18. “I was very excited to serve the commonwealth.”

Levine as physician general would work directly with Pennsylvania’s secretary of health on what she described as “medical matters.” She would also become a Cabinet-level advisor for Wolf on health care policy if the state Senate confirms her nomination.

“We will work together on the all the different medical issues and health related issues, public-related issues that are part of the Department of Health and for the commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” said Levine.

Physician began career in mid-1980s

Levine has nearly three decades of experience in pediatrics and psychiatry.

The Patriot-News reported that Levine graduated from the Tulane University School of Medicine in 1983.

Levine completed her pediatrics residency at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York in 1987. Her fellowship in adolescent medicine at the same facility ended the following year.

She was on staff at Mount Sinai Hospital until 1993 when she moved to Pennsylvania. Levine has worked at Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center since 1996.

She began the hospital’s adolescent medicine program. Levine also started what she described to the Blade as a “multidisciplinary eating disorder program” for people with anorexia, bulimia and other illnesses.

“My medical interests are where medical issues relate to mental health and behavioral issues,” Levine told the Blade. “Your mind and body are connected. Where that interface is, where that intersection is is my particular interest and expertise.”

Wolf: Levine is ‘well-respected’

Levine transitioned from a man into a woman five years ago.

She told the Blade that administrators at Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center were “exceptionally supportive” of her transition. Levine further noted the hospital’s anti-discrimination policy includes sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.

“I was welcomed at Penn State-Hershey in terms of my transition,” she said.

Levine is also a board member of Equality Pennsylvania, a statewide LGBT advocacy group, where she said she “brought my expertise on health care and mental health issues as they relate to LGBT individuals.”

Levine told the Blade she would support and “personally advocate” for a bill that would ban anti-LGBT discrimination in Pennsylvania. She nevertheless stressed that Wolf nominated her to become the state’s next physician general because of her “accomplishments and my expertise” and not because of her gender identity and expression.

“I was chosen for this position because of this expertise,” said Levine.

“Being a transgender woman in a position like that of authority to serve is very rewarding and gratifying,” she added.

Wolf in a statement praised Levine’s decades worth of experience.

“Dr. Rachel Levine is well-respected in the fields of pediatrics, psychiatry and behavioral health where she has practiced for close to three decades,” he said, according to the Patriot-News. “She has been a leading voice in efforts to treat teens with medical and psychological problems, as well as adults and children with eating disorders. It is important to me that we place equal emphasis on behavioral and physical health issues.”

Equality Pennsylvania also congratulated Levine over her nomination.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

  • The pronoun, she, throughout the story realistically should be replaced by the word, it, shouldn't it?

  • I have read many articles condemning Dr. Levine's appointment..

    Even though I personally have no experience and only have met one person who revealed being transgender…. I do have to say after reading medical articles about transgender… doing some research into the history and available data on the subject….I fail to see why many people have a problem with transgender men or women. Transgender people are people who are more than just people who get a sexual kick out of wearing clothing of the opposite sex. They fully identify psychologically with being the opposite sex than they were born.

    One merely has to look at the logic and exercise a bit of empathy.
    No one just wakes up in the morning and says "Hey, today I think I will be transgender"…. Nor do they consider themselves transgender over some sexual urge…. Quite the contrary… many transgender people still feel sexual attraction to the opposite sex that they were born. Even though there is a consistent emotional and psychological identity they feel with the gender opposite of how they were born. The decision to accept this about themselves is a difficult one… you would face discrimination…. ridicule… possibly social isolation…. and the decision to act on this sense of being brings with it all sorts of emotional… social… and psychological pain.

    No one is wreaking this kind of havoc in their lives 'just for kicks'. Transgender people are not just 'cross dressers'. So obviously those that do decide to address it… feel it strongly enough to accept the struggle that comes along with this decision.

    Although 'cross dressing' can be considered by definition a sexual 'perversion'. True transgender individuals are not by any definition 'perverts'. The motivation of a transgender person is not sexual stimulus…. it is psychological and emotional identity.

    So the question I ask myself when I feel uncomfortable with this is…. if someone is a transgender what would I have them do?… Deny this about themselves and live in psychological conflict? … Not seek medical assistance and support? …. Keep themselves cloistered away so I feel more comfortable? Have them not try to achieve and make the most of their lives?….

    Well… if I did feel any of these things I think that I would be the one needing psychotherapy… not them.

    The next question I ask myself is why should it bother me?… What am I so concerned about?… Is social acceptance of transgender people some how going to turn people into something they are not just by seeing or meeting someone who is transgender?… Will children all over the country become transgender even if they were not that way to begin with?. Will everyone become confused about their own gender identity?

    This is just not scientifically accurate… and these claims are purely based on personal biased and show ignorance of the data.

    All scientific evidence and studies fully indicate we are who we are… and raised in a supportive, loving environment we will become who we are. Heterosexual …. homosexual…. and transgender… you will develop into who you are despite members of society trying to berate you into what they want you to be. Faced with being raised by parents and living in a society that forces you into a particular mold and persecutes you if you do not comply… this results in a child that is far more damaged… far more the psychologically tortured individual at the hands of others. Of us all.

    If we commit social and psychological persecution of children and adults purely because of our own discomfort, we become the people we should fear. For we're the creators of monsters. Not people who live their own lives peacefully as they see fit bringing no harm to others.

    So… looking at it logically … scientifically… and from a humanitarian point of view…
    I see the only reason I would object to social or public acceptance of transgender people are attitudes that are not based in truth or science. My objection would be based solely on my own personal discomfort.. discomfort based on my own illogical fears… or some personal religious belief that I have no right to force upon anyone else.

    When I look at someone who looks male but is dressed like a woman… is my gut reaction to feel like something is not quite right?… You bet… but that would be from my ignorance… and from my lack of exposure…. not from any need for concern based in reality. I have been conditioned to be uncomfortable… by growing up with and trained with archaic social attitudes and religious exposure whose dogma accepts condemnation of others outside of it's belief system.

    I believe the greatest need for psychotherapy is with those who condemn and who,obviously by their writings, have not spent one moment learning about what they are condemning. Or those who cannot come up with one reason substantiated by science or data as to why society should object.

    Those that condemn Dr. Levine because they give no value or validity that she 'Feels' her identity with a gender other than that she was born. But at the same time expect that their opinion holds any value at all… with no logical support…because they 'feel' uncomfortable;

    In order to condemn Dr. Levine's appointment based on her being transgender is to willfully remain ignorant… to work from fear and myth and not science and knowledge. And above all I must remove any sense of empathy from my thoughts…. and that my friends would be the clearest indication of a psychological disorder. More glaring than any person being a transgender.

    And as I get older…. and hopefully wiser…. I see my discomfort for what it is…. and I chose to no longer live by myth, legend and illogical fear.

  • Dr. Rachel Levine is standing at the brink of history. Let's pray that the Pennsylvania legislature affirms her nomination.

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