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Rand Paul criticized for questioning of transgender health nominee

The Hill logo The Hill 2/25/2021 Jessie Hellmann
Rand Paul wearing a suit and tie: Rand Paul criticized for questioning of transgender health nominee © Greg Nash Rand Paul criticized for questioning of transgender health nominee

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is facing criticism for his questioning of one of President Biden's health nominees, Rachel Levine, a former state health official who would be the first openly transgender federal official confirmed by the Senate.

Paul characterized gender-affirming care, including surgical treatments for transgender individuals, as "genital mutilation," a description not supported by mainstream health care experts.

"It is really critical to me that our nominees be treated with respect and that our questions focus on their qualifications and the work ahead of us, rather than ideological and harmful misrepresentations like those we heard from Senator Paul earlier," said Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the chairwoman of the Senate Health Committee, which considered Levine's nomination Thursday.

Levine was nominated to be the assistant secretary for health at the Department of Health and Human Services, a role that primarily oversees the agency's public health initiatives.

Levine, a pediatrician, previously served as the secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Health. While other senators questioned Levine on public health issues, including mental health and COVID-19, Paul focused on the treatment of transgender youth.

Paul specifically said Levine supports surgeries for transgender children, a misleading claim that has surfaced in conservative media and social media in recent days.

The World Professional Association for Transgender Health says genital surgery should not be carried out until patients reach adulthood. In 2015, Levine said during a public event that surgical treatment is not recommended before age 18. In 2017, she said there are "some procedures" that might be done before 18.

"Transgender medicine is a very complex and nuanced field with robust research and standards of care that have been developed," Levine said to Paul, though she didn't specifically answer his question.

If she is confirmed, she added, she would be happy to discuss the standard of care for transgender individuals and minors.

Paul also criticized the use of reversible puberty blockers, which can be used for adolescents experiencing gender dysphoria as a way to give them time before making more permanent decisions, like surgery, in adulthood.

Research has shown puberty blockers, which are reversible, can reduce suicidal thoughts in transgender adolescence.

"Rand Paul chose devotion to anti-LGBTQ extremist groups over substance and the health of our nation - and does not deserve to hold public office," said Ruben Gonzales, executive director of the LGBTQ Victory Institute.

"His remarks echo the talking points of the same organizations who said gay men deserved AIDS and that LGBTQ people should be criminalized. He explicitly attacked vulnerable trans youth for his own perceived political gain and it was a disgrace. Dr. Levine is an extremely qualified nominee whose experience can help America effectively tackle this pandemic, but he took this opportunity to give voice to hate groups instead."

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