The current Secretary of Health for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Levine is also a professor of pediatrics and psychiatry at the Penn State College of Medicine, and so when it comes to pandemic-related stuff, she certainly knows what she’s talking about.
Her Twitter feed has been a consistent thread of useful information; she retweets materials explaining everything from what exactly a stay-at-home order means to how we can reduce stress and improve mental health while simultaneously protecting our physical well-being. She’s a constant source for up-to-date statistics and figures showing the coronavirus infection rate in Pennsylvania, leading Governor Wolf's live daily broadcasts that brief us on its local impact, and giving us tips on when to seek medical care — and how to seek it without putting others at risk.
Secretary Levine manages to be honest without inciting fear. She’s realistic without inching toward pessimism. She’s hopeful without negating or ignoring the very real dangers of COVID-19. She breaks down complex and scary topics in a way that everyone watching or reading or listening can understand — in a way that allows facts to comfort rather than intimidate.
And she’s transgender.
As a trans person myself — I identify as transmasculine and non-binary — I can’t stress how important it is to me that one of my state’s historic leaders is “like me” in such a simple and fundamental way.
My relationship with my own transness is complex. I don’t want my queer identity to ever be the thing that defines me. I don’t ever want to get boxed in within my career, writing exclusively about queer topics because people see a label instead of a byline. I don’t want to be a token gay friend, or a footnote in someone’s story about how they can’t possibly be homophobic because they know a queer person.
One of the things that I respect so much about Secretary Levine is that she’s out and proud, and her warm and guiding leadership has not only been a constant comfort amid a deeply disturbing public health crisis, but she’s also giving other trans folks like me something to aspire to, to aim for, to admire.
In the midst of chaos and uncertainty on this Trans Day of Visibility, it’s remarkably meaningful that other queer young people — and queer adults, too — can watch someone who is “like them” lead a frightened population through these strange days with dignity, intellect, and grace.
Ollie Gratzinger is Pittsburgh City Paper's spring reporting intern. You can follow them on Twitter at @OGratzinger.