Transgender health care supported ‘at the highest level’: Rachel Levin

BAUSTON — With the health and safety of trans and queer youth at risk across the country, there were a few moments of hope Wednesday in Boston when Adm. Rachel Levin, Assistant Secretary for Health at the Department of Health and Human Services and the first transgender federal employee confirmed by the US Senate, visited the Boston Alliance of LGBTQ+ Youth.

Levine, who grew up in nearby Wakefield, Mass., toured the facility and spoke with staff and youth leaders at the local social support organization and clinic. At multiple sites across the state, BAGLY provides queer youth with a place to both give and receive support for their physical, social, and developmental needs.

Here’s what Levine had to say about some of the major issues facing the community today.

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How hospitals should respond to gender-inclusive care harassment

As part of his trip to Massachusetts, Levine made extensive tours of the state’s hospitals. With many facilities across the country facing harassment, including death threats, for providers who offer gender-sensitive care, Levine told doctors to “highlight the importance of the work they do for vulnerable, transgender and gender-nonconforming children and their families, and keep doing this work and keep the faith.”

STAT previously reported that online harassment and threats have led some hospitals to remove or edit information on their websites about the gender-affirming services they provide. Levine noted that children’s hospitals facing such attacks are the same places currently overwhelmed by a wave of respiratory syncytial virus cases.

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“Hospitals facing these incredible threats must stay strong and take all necessary precautions to protect themselves,” Levin said.

When medical advice becomes political

Last week, the Florida Board of Medicine voted to begin drafting legislation that would ban gender-affirming care such as puberty blockers, hormone therapy or surgery for transgender minors in the state. This is a worrying move that goes against the guidelines of professional medical organizations and the scope of research.

“This is the first time I’ve seen a physician panel up in arms against medical providers who provide evidence-based standard care,” Levine said.

Levine, who served on the Pennsylvania medical board when she was the state’s physician general, sees the Florida board’s decision as a “unique and unprecedented situation” that does not require additional accountability for the power that medical boards hold.

On Thursday, the Tampa Bay Times reported that members of the medical board donated more than $80,000 to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has long pushed for curbs on transgender rights.

How the federal government will work to protect queer youth

Although Massachusetts is considered a transgender-friendly state, BAGLY Executive Director Grace Sterling Stowell noted that young people often come to the center and ask if what’s happening in Florida could happen here.

Levine offered some reassurance: “Our community is supported at the highest levels,” she said. In June, President Biden signed an executive order to support LGBTQI+ communities. The administration also proposed changing the nondiscrimination section of the Affordable Care Act to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Levine, who has visited hospitals and clinics providing gender-affirming care across the country to advocate for the importance of services, believes experts and politicians are targeting trans youth as an issue in the upcoming election along with reproductive rights.

“You can see a pattern here in terms of attacks on rights,” she said. “I really reject the language used by the opposition. I reject their terminology. I reject their ideology.”

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