Sarah McBride Will Be First Openly Transgender State Senator: 'I'm Running to Make a Difference'

Sean Neumann
·5 min read

COURTESY Sarah McBride CAMPAIGN Sarah McBride

Editor's note: On Tuesday night, The Associated Press projected that Sarah McBride had won her election in Delaware. The original article on her, published earlier Tuesday, is below.

This is always who she was.

Sarah McBride, and those who have known her, say the likely next Delaware state senator has always been service oriented.

Now McBride, a transgender-rights activist and former Obama administration intern, hopes to become the next state senator in Delaware’s first district.

“She’s smart, she’s a great public speaker and a great possibility model for young people,” Mara Keisling, the executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality tells PEOPLE. “And she’s always cared about public service. That was apparent to me from when I first met her.”

McBride’s candidacy Tuesday in the historically Democrat-heavy district set her on a path to becoming the highest-ranking, openly transgender state senator in U.S. history.

“Growing up, it seemed like politics was where you could make the most amount of change for the most number of people in the most number of ways possible,” McBride, 30, tells PEOPLE. “And hopefully, it’s a way to build a world where more people could live openly, authentically, and freely.”

COURTESY Sarah McBride CAMPAIGN Sarah McBride

The barriers have been cracking in recent years for transgender lawmakers to serve openly in American government.

Virginia state Rep. Danica Roem became the first openly transgender lawmaker to serve in a state legislature after she was elected to her state’s House of Delegates in 2017. A number have followed in the years since, including Reps. Gerri Cannon and Lisa Bunker in New Hampshire, and Rep. Brianna Titone in Colorado, the next year.

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Tuesday's balloting promised to add McBride's name to the growing list of history-making lawmakers, while adding her own crack in the LGBTQ community’s glass ceiling.

“In the entire history of the United States, there has never been a transgender person with the title ‘senator,’ " says Keisling, who first met McBride while she was president of the American University student body around 2012. "Now, trans kids, and other kids, are going to get to be able to see that and that’s a really remarkable thing when you can be that kind of a role model."

COURTESY Sarah McBride CAMPAIGN Sarah McBride

Sarah McBride

Kiesling says McBride's election not only places the state district in the hands of a local lawmaker and activist who grew up in the community, but also opens the door for possibility and hope among kids who grow up questioning their identities, as she and McBride both did.

"If I had grown up in the 1960s with role models like Sarah, I don’t know how my life would’ve been different," Kiesling says, pointing to kids who now won't see as many social barriers in their lifetimes. "They see this funny, smart, great speaking Sarah McBride who’s a senator? It can literally save lives. It can literally be the inspiration a kid needs to keep going."

"That's such an incredible gift to give," Kiesling says.

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Also in 2012, McBride became the first openly transgender intern at the White House, an experience in former President Barack Obama’s administration that helped cement her belief in the importance of representation and “having a seat at the table.”

“When our legislative bodies and our executive offices look like the people they seek to represent, and reflect the full diversity of our communities, the conversation changes,” McBride says, adding that she’s seen the proof firsthand. “Issues that were once abstract become not only real but personal.”

McBride’s activism in Delaware led the state to pass a transgender-rights bill in 2013, and helped land her the role of national press secretary for the Human Rights Campaign.

After the 2016 Democratic National Convention, McBride’s mother Sally wrote in the Delaware Voice that “two women made history,” referring to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton becoming the first woman to become a presidential nominee, shortly after Sarah became the first transgender speaker to address a major party’s convention.

Human Rights Campaign Sarah McBride

“I’m not running to make history or to make headlines,” McBride says. “I’m running to make a difference in this community and to represent this community as best I can by bringing the full range of experiences and perspectives I have with such a long history in this community.”

“I am mindful of the responsibility that I hold,” she says.

“I’m mindful of just how powerful it would’ve been for me as a kid to see the story pop up online of a transgender person being elected to a state senate and the message that it would’ve sent to somebody like me growing up worried that there wasn’t space for someone like me in this world,” McBride explains. “That’s a powerful message and that’s a powerful opportunity to provide a little bit of hope, and a little bit of comfort, to a young person here in Delaware or somewhere else in this country, that our democracy is big enough for them too.”