Delaware’s Sarah McBride Makes History as the Country’s First Openly Transgender State Senator

“I hope tonight shows an LGBTQ kid that our democracy is big enough for them, too.”

Transgender activist Sarah McBride campaigns in Claymont, Delaware. Jason Minto/AP

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When Sarah McBride was 13 years old in 2004, still struggling to accept her gender identity, she built a stage in her Delaware bedroom with a podium. On it, she recited Illinois state Sen. Barack Obama’s speech at the Democratic National Convention over and over, excited by the future president’s call for Americans to embrace more diversity.

She probably didn’t realize then that she’d be an essential part of that vision. Tonight, McBride, now 30, made history by winning her state Senate race in Delaware, becoming the first openly transgender person to ever become a state senator in the United States, and the country’s highest-ranking openly trans official.

“I hope tonight shows an LGBTQ kid that our democracy is big enough for them, too,” McBride, a Democrat, tweeted Tuesday night after the election was called. She easily beat her Republican opponent, Steve Washington, after Democrat Harris McDowell did not seek reelection after more than four decades in office.

McBride, who formerly worked at the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT advocacy organization, has been making history for many years. In 2016, she became the first openly transgender person to address a major party’s nominating convention, taking the stage in Philadelphia not long before Hillary Clinton spoke. Before that, when she was in college, she interned for the Obama administration, making her the first openly trans person to work at the White House.

“One of the really inspiring things is that as transgender people we can live our truth and still pursue our dreams,” she told my former Mother Jones colleague Oliver-Ash Kleine in an interview in 2018. “Growing up, that was incomprehensible to me. Seeing kids today who are both themselves and still dreaming big dreams demonstrates for me how far we’ve come.”

McBride ran as a progressive, calling for affordable health care, universal pre-kindergarten, and a higher minimum wage. She also has a connection to former Vice President Joe Biden: She struck up a friendship with his late son, Beau, while working on Beau’s political campaigns. Biden wrote the forward to her memoir. “The relationship I had with Beau may have contributed to the vice president being even more of a vocal champion of LGBTQ rights, and trans rights in particular,” she told Kleine. “I think the vice president sees in his life a mission to help preserve and extend Beau’s legacy—and this is part of Beau’s legacy.”

On Tuesday, LGBTQ activists praised McBride’s historic election to the Delaware Senate. “For Sarah to shatter a lavender ceiling in such a polarizing year is a powerful reminder that voters are increasingly rejecting the politics of bigotry in favor of candidates who stand for fairness and equality,” Annise Parker, president of the LGBTQ Victory Fund, said in a statement.

McBride, for her part, seems ready to get to work. “I don’t intend on serving as a transgender state senator,” she told the Delaware News Journal last year. “I intend on serving as a senator who happens to be transgender.”

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