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A first: US Senate confirms transgender doctor for key post

FILE - In this Feb. 25, 2021, file photo, Rachel Levine, nominated to be an assistant secretary at the Department of Health and Human Services, testifies before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee on Capitol Hill in Washington. Voting mostly along party lines, the U.S. Senate on March 24, confirmed Levine to be assistant secretary of health. She becomes the first openly transgender federal official to win Senate confirmation. (Caroline Brehman/Pool via AP, File)
FILE - In this Feb. 25, 2021, file photo, Rachel Levine, nominated to be an assistant secretary at the Department of Health and Human Services, testifies before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee on Capitol Hill in Washington. Voting mostly along party lines, the U.S. Senate on March 24, confirmed Levine to be assistant secretary of health. She becomes the first openly transgender federal official to win Senate confirmation. (Caroline Brehman/Pool via AP, File)

Voting mostly along party lines, the U.S. Senate has confirmed former Pennsylvania Health Secretary Rachel Levine to be the nation’s assistant secretary of health. She is the first openly transgender federal official to win Senate confirmation.

The final vote Wednesday was 52-48. Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine joined all Democrats in supporting Levine.

Levine had been serving as Pennsylvania’s top health official since 2017, and emerged as the public face of the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. She is expected to oversee Health and Human Services offices and programs across the U.S.

President Joe Biden cited Levine’s experience when he nominated her in January.

Levine “will bring the steady leadership and essential expertise we need to get people through this pandemic — no matter their zip code, race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability,” Biden said.

Transgender-rights activists have hailed Levine’s appointment as a historic breakthrough. Few trans people have ever held high-level offices at the federal or state level.

However, the confirmation vote came at a challenging moment for the transgender-rights movement as legislatures across the U.S. — primarily those under Republican control — are considering an unprecedented wave of bills targeting trans young people.

One type of bill, introduced in at least 25 states, seeks to ban trans girls and young women from participating in female scholastic sports.