Rachel Levine is close to being the highest ranking transgender woman in Pennsylvania’s state government.
On April 16, Levine spoke at an event held by Lambda Grads, an LGBT organization for graduate students. Her speech was the keynote event for the Day of Silence organized by the Lambda Grads, in which participants remained silent for all of Friday.
Levine was recently nominated by Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf to be the next physician general for the state.
Edward Wu, the chair of Lambda Grads, spoke about how the organization was created to establish affinity among the various LGBT groups across the nation, Lambda Grads was created. Event sponsors included OsTEM, Penn Dental Medicine, OutEd, QSP2 and Lambda Law. A representative from each group had the opportunity to speak about their individual contributions to the Day of Silence and the LGBT community. Subsequently, attendees had the option to socialize with the various sponsors and each other.
Lorre Atlan, the coordinator for the event, explained that the Day of Silence has been the largest movement to create a safer environment for LGBT students in schools.
Levine began by dedicating her speech to two students named Leelah and Ash — two transgender youths who have recently committed suicide. She asked the audience to participate in a moment of silence to honor all of the members of the LGBT community who have taken their lives.
“LGBT kids need to know that someone is there for them,” she said.
Growing up in a middle class, conservative environment, Levine never felt that she fit the mold. Although Levine was a straight-A student at a prestigious high school, an excellent athlete who went on to attend Harvard University and subsequently Tulane University School of Medicine, she knew she was different.
“I wanted to be a girl but I was in the body of a boy,” she said.
As of 40 years ago, the term “transgender” had yet to be coined. Levine realized that she struggled with her sexual identity but had no frame of reference or any person to look to as an exemplar or to confide in.
“I always felt I had this secret that I could never tell anybody,” she said.
Out of fear of social transgression, Levine compartmentalized this realization about herself and went on to get married and have two children. By the time she reached 40, however, Levine could not suppress what she knew to be true about herself any longer. At this stage, she began to slowly transition into becoming a woman.
“It’s important not to surprise people... I transitioned very slowly... For me that was helpful, people got used to it,” she said.
Levine is motivated to rectify the institutional prejudices that discriminate against the LGBT community. If elected, she hopes to focus on the research and development of an HIV vaccination, as well as improving systemic issues that limit access to prescription medications. In addition, Levine hopes to develop access to quality mental health care because she believes that behavioral and mental health is interchangeable.
“Innovations will come out of this administration ... [the health care system] will look substantially different in four years,” she said.
To ensure that the priorities of young adults align with their legislators, Levine stresses the importance for all young adults to be engaged in their community and be politically involved.
“It is important to vote ... know who your legislators are and get involved in terms of advocacy ... It is important for us to be visible and to have a voice that must be heard,” she said.
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