Rachel Levine, transgender deputy secretary of health, issues call ‘to stand against bullying’ at Israel embassy event

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Speaking at an Israeli embassy Pride event, Rachel Levine, the openly transgender Jewish deputy secretary of health in the Biden administration, called on people to “stand together against bullying” of trans people.

“The past few months have been a difficult time for our LGBTQI-plus community in the United States,” Levine, dressed in uniform as the admiral of the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, said Wednesday in a prerecorded video screened at the embassy’s pride event.

“Attacks on the health and well-being of trans youth and trans adults have driven a political wedge into what should be a private, strictly medical conversation,”  Levine said. “Now we all need to stand together against bullying in public. We see that kind of emotional abuse in our communities. No one deserves that kind of treatment. Certainly not a young person or teenager who’s already more likely to face bullying at school.”

Levine did not give specific examples, but a number of Republican politicians have sought bans on gender-related medical treatment for anyone under age 18 and have sought to inhibit the availability of materials about LGBTQ and trans issues in schools. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has issued orders that would classifying gender-affirming care as child abuse, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis recently signed a law prohibiting instruction about LGBTQ issues, including gender identity, in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not “age-appropriate” in other grades.

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Additionally, LGBTQ events have been subject to threats of violence and harassment recently.

Israeli officials have emphasized freedoms for LGBTQ people in the country, which Levine recognized. “I commend everyone here today for your commitment to equity to diversity and inclusion,” she said, and called on support for young people facing what she said was bullying.

“We must strongly advocate for the most underserved and marginalized in our LGBTQ plus community, including our trans youth, and trans women of color,” Levine said. “You should all be able to live your lives no matter who you are, or who you love.”

Uzra Zeya, the State Department’s undersecretary for human rights, appeared live at the event and emphasized U.S. cooperation with Israel in advancing LGBTQ rights.

“We celebrate that Israel has a strong and diverse LGBTQI plus organizational network, the earliest of these organizations going back nearly 50 years,” she said. “The United States and Israel are working together throughout the UN system to counter hate speech and promote gender equality LGBTQI-plus rights, women’s empowerment and the Rights of Persons with Disabilities [convention] among many other issues.”

Israeli ambassador Michael Herzog in his remarks noted Israel’s massive Pride events. “Israel is a natural partner in advancing these values,” he said.

Also attending the event were Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla. and Marc Pocan, D-Wis. Betty, an all-Jewish, all-lesbian rock trio, was the musical act.

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