Transgender physician breaks barrier in Pennsylvania capital

Tue Jun 9, 2015 5:57pm EDT
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By David DeKok

HARRISBURG, Pa. (Reuters) - Dr. Rachel Levine, a transgender woman confirmed on Tuesday as Pennsylvania's physician-general, says she wants to be defined by her public health priorities, not her breakthrough appointment as an influential gubernatorial adviser.

With the state Senate endorsing her appointment in a 49-0 vote, Levine became the first transgender person to serve as a high-level official in Pennsylvania history. But even though she is pleased to be a mentor to the transgender community, Levine says her role as a physician comes first.

Levine, who will advise Democratic Governor Tom Wolf on medical and public health issues, sees addiction to prescription drugs as one of Pennsylvania's most pressing problems.

"I am very grateful to Governor Wolf for nominating me to this position and to the Senate for their consideration of my nomination," Levine said following the vote.

The new physician-general specializes in adolescent medicine and has run a clinic for young people with eating disorders. In keeping with her own personal history, Levine also counsels teenagers struggling with their gender identity.

"One of the most common misconceptions is that it's a choice, or a whim, or a lifestyle thing," Levine said in an interview, referring to gender identity. "It's a deeply personal issue."

Levine, 57, formerly a married father of two, said accurate information about gender identity was unavailable to her growing up in Wakefield, Massachusetts, a mill town about 15 miles (25 km) north of Boston.

From the age of 5 or 6, Levine said, she wondered if she was a girl living in a boy's body.   Continued...

Dr. Rachel Levine, physician general nominee, is seen at the State Capitol in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania May 4, 2015. REUTERS/Daniel Shanken