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US - March 17, 2022

Texas Attorney General Attacks Nation’s Highest-Ranking Openly Transgender Official

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, waist-deep in ethical controversies, tweeted out his transphobia on Thursday morning by intentionally misgendering the nation’s highest-ranking openly transgender official.

USA Today had named Dr. Rachel Levine one of its Women of the Year on Sunday for her role during the COVID-19 pandemic. Levine, nominated by President Joe Biden, serves as assistant secretary for health at the Department of Health and Human Services and leads a group of 6,000 uniformed public health officers. The trained pediatrician was sworn in as a four-star admiral of the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps in October, becoming just the sixth person to receive the honor in the corps’ history.

Levine is also the first female and openly transgender four-star admiral — a milestone celebrated by civil rights groups, LGBTQ activists and USA Today.

“I think you have to be true to yourself and I think that you have to be who you are,” Levine told the outlet. “You have tremendous worth just for who you are, no matter who you love, no matter who you are, no matter what your gender identity, sexual orientation or anything else, and to be, be true to that. And then everything else will follow.”

Rachel Levine was honored by USA Today as one of the outlet’s Women of the Year on March 13, 2022. The honor for the nation’s highest-ranking openly transgender official led Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to intentionally misgender the four-star admiral.

Caroline Brehman/AFP via Getty Images

Levine’s authenticity did not sit well with the Republican Texas attorney general, who tweeted a screenshot of her achievement on Thursday and purposely misgendered her.

Paxton’s tweet received swift public backlash, including calls for Twitter to take it down because it targets someone for their gender identity. Intentionally misgendering someone can create unsafe environments for transgender people and cause mental and emotional harm.

Twitter previously suspended Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) for intentionally misgendering Levine. Fox News host Tucker Carlson also misgendered Levine on Tuesday and called her a “fake admiral.”

Twitter posted an update Thursday evening above Paxton’s tweet, saying that it violates the platform’s rules about hateful conduct but would remain accessible because “it may be in the public’s interest.”

Levine’s office did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.

Paxton has pushed to classify gender-affirming care for transgender youth as abuse. He released a nonbinding legal opinion last month saying that doctors who prescribe puberty-blocking medication or perform gender-affirming surgeries for transgender minors are engaging in “child abuse.”

The next day, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) ordered the state’s Department of Family and Protective Services to start investigating families that it claimed were putting transgender youth at risk by affirming their genders.

Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra called Abbott’s order “discriminatory and unconscionable” and “clearly dangerous to the health of transgender youth in Texas.” Major medical groups have also spoken out against states seeking to block gender-affirming health care.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton intentionally misgendered HHS Assistant Secretary Rachel Levine after Levine was honored as one of USA Today's Women of the Year.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton intentionally misgendered HHS Assistant Secretary Rachel Levine after Levine was honored as one of USA Today’s Women of the Year.

Drew Angerer via Getty Images

Several civil rights groups have gone to court to halt the order in Texas, leading a judge to stop an investigation into the family of a Department of Family and Protective Services worker with a transgender child. On March 11, Abbott’s order was halted, pending a full trial.

That same night, however, Paxton tweeted that he was appealing the decision, claiming that the judge’s order was frozen once he filed his appeal and that DFPS investigations would proceed. Paxton says he expects the appeal to go to the Texas Supreme Court.

Paxton faces a challenging reelection fight now that he has been forced into a runoff for the Republican nomination against a member of the Bush political dynasty. The incumbent attorney general, backed by Donald Trump, failed to secure 50% of the vote and will now face Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush in May.

Paxton narrowly won his last election in 2018 after he was indicted for alleged securities fraud in 2015. That case, which is still open, is separate from an FBI investigation into a whistleblower complaint alleging that Paxton abused the power of his office by accepting bribes and tampering with government documents to help a campaign donor. He has denied any wrongdoing.

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