With Health Sec. Levine likely headed to Washington, Pa.’s transgender residents look to a more welcoming future | Frank Pizzoli

January 21, 2021 6:30 am

Pennsylvania Department of Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine speaks during a press conference inside PEMA headquarters on Monday, Dec. 21, 2020.

By Frank Pizzoli

If approved by the U.S. Senate, state Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine could be the first out transgender person to ascend to a cabinet-level position.

Frank Pizzoli (Capital-Star file)

In nominating Levine to be the U.S. Assistant Secretary of Health, President Joe Biden referred to her as “a historic and deeply qualified choice to help lead our administration’s health efforts.” Under Gov. Tom Wolf, Levine has been leading Pennsylvania’s Covid pandemic relief efforts.

Levine has performed her Pennsylvania duties against a nationwide backdrop of violence against transgender individuals.

The Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ advocacy group, reports “Sadly, 2020 has already seen at least 44 transgender or gender non-conforming people fatally shot or killed by other violent means, the majority of which were Black and Latinx transgender women. We say at least because too often these stories go unreported — or misreported.”

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Since HRC began tracking this data in 2013, advocates have never seen such a high number at this point in the year.

If she’s confirmed, will Levine’s big ship visibility raise the visibility of smaller boats in the transgender community?

“Her nomination to this important public office will help bring visibility to our community, even as, and especially while, she continues to rise above identity politics,” York-based transgender man Tesla Taliaferro, the president of the Rainbow Rose Center, said.

Levine’s appointment would be “the perfect example of recognition and advancement based on hard work and education. These are the values our country was founded on,” Taliaferro said.

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Visibility is important to transgender woman Joanne Carroll. “For the past four years the Trump administration has been actively pursuing a campaign of cancel culture directed toward the LGBTQ community.” She is executive director of Trans Advocacy Pennsylvania.

Carroll notes that the 2020 General Election provided another avenue of visibility.

November 2020 was the strongest showing for LGBTQ candidates in history, according to the LGBTQ Victory Fund. More than 1,000 LGBTQ Americans ran for office, and at last count 334 of the 782 known general election candidates won their November races.

Overall, 43 percent of the queer candidates who made it to the general election won their races. Among transgender candidates, 17 percent of transgender men won and 37 percent of transgender women won their races.

Janelle Crossley, a Democrat who unsuccessfully ran last year for Cumberland County’s 199th House District, said, “It isn’t easy being different. It isn’t pleasant being watched by judgmental eyes.” She is Pennsylvania’s first openly transgender woman to run for state-level office garnering more than 14,000 votes.

Crossley was recently inducted into the Library of Congress’ Rainbow Wave archive.

The public service and volunteer commitments made by Levine, Crossley, Carroll, and Taliaferro underscore what TransCentralPA President Kristy Snow says: Levine’s historic nomination is a much overdue acknowledgement of the many trans and non-binary individuals who have quietly and unselfishly served our nation both in the military and at all levels of government.

Milford Mayor Sean Strub, who is gay, reports his first-hand experience with Levine.

He’s also founder of Sero Project, a Pennsylvania-based national network of people living with HIV combating HIV criminalization, mass incarceration, racism and social injustice.

“Dr. Levine and her team have helped our county and community enormously in responding to the pandemic. Her office is responsive, welcomes community input and has led with science, not politics,” Strub said.

Adrian Shanker, the executive director of the Lehigh County-based Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center, which coordinates multiple statewide state Health Department wellness and health promotion programs says that “more than making history, Dr. Levine will make a difference in the lives of LGBTQ Americans, and all Americans, through her innovative approaches and her unabated dedication to public health.

Levine’s appointment is not a done deal. The U.S. Senate must approve. Will public pressure for or against her appointment prevail?

By Inauguration Day, 240 organizations signed a formal letter of support to be delivered to the U.S. Senate, reports NFN Scout, PhD, executive director, National LGBT Cancer Network.

Opinion contributor Frank Pizzoli, of Harrisburg, is the former editor and publisher of the Central Voice. His work appears biweekly on the Capital-Star’s Commentary Page.

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