Meet Sarah McBride, a transgender woman making history at DNC

Michael Walsh
·Reporter

LGBT rights advocate Sarah McBride will make history when she speaks in support of Hillary Clinton at the Democratic National Convention Thursday.

She will be the first openly transgender person to speak at a national convention for either major U.S. political party.

On the eve of her speech, McBride, 25, joined Yahoo Global News Anchor Katie Couric at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia to discuss her experience as a transgender person in the United States and why there’s so much prejudice against her community.

“I want to make sure that people understand that behind this national conversation around transgender rights there are real people,” McBride said. “Who hurt when they’re mocked, who hurt when they’re discriminated against and who just want to be treated with dignity and respect.”

McBride, who grew up in Wilmington, Del., is the national press secretary of the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBT rights advocacy group. She is also on the steering committee of Trans United for Hillary, which urges the transgender community and its allies to support Clinton’s bid for the White House.

According to McBride, people are scared of what they do not understand, and that’s why personal stories from the transgender community — like the one she will share on Thursday — and public education play an integral part in changing hearts and minds.

“As the trans community becomes more visible, we’re going to see, I think, a decrease in discrimination, but at the same time, at least in the short term, this increased visibility is going to create more vulnerability for a lot of people,” she said.

Stories about transgender rights have been in the news frequently the past year. Issues like North Carolina’s controversial House Bill 2 (HB2), which requires people to use public bathrooms that correspond with their sex as assigned at birth rather than their gender identities, have sparked intense debates around the subject.

Three months ago, McBride made headlines when she shared a selfie from inside a North Carolina public women’s restroom to protest the law, which she calls “probably the most hateful, mean-spirited bill” toward the LGBT community ever passed in the history of the United States.

“Bathrooms have been at the center of equality and civil rights movements for the last 50 years,” she said. “And the reason for that is because discrimination in bathrooms keeps people from being able to participate in public life. If you can’t use a bathroom, it becomes much harder to go to school, go to work or participate in the public marketplace.”

Supporters of HB2 and similar laws argue that allowing transgender women to use the restroom corresponding with their gender identity would allow potential sexual predators into women’s rooms and put little girls in danger. The transgender community has denounced these arguments as prejudiced, offensive and false.

“Discomfort isn’t grounds for discrimination,” McBride said. “We have a big country with a lot of different kinds of people in it. It’s OK to be talking to one another about what it means to be transgender. We don’t have to shield everyone from the existence of people like me.”

Turning the conversation toward the presidential election, Couric asked what McBride thought of the fact that there are 28 transgender delegates at the Democratic National Convention and only 18 African-American delegates were at the Republican National Convention last week in Cleveland.

For McBride, this contrast illustrates that the Democrats’ convention is one of inclusion and equality while the Republicans’ convention was built around hate, fear and division.

“At that convention, they endorsed the most anti-LGBT platform in their party’s history. And for the Republican Party, that’s pretty astounding,” she said.

Sarah McBride discusses her life as a transgender woman at the Democratic National Convention. (Photo: Yahoo News)
Sarah McBride discusses her life as a transgender woman at the Democratic National Convention. (Photo: Yahoo News)

McBride called Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump “an enemy of LGBTQ rights” and criticized his choice of running mate: Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, best known outside his state for signing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which critics said made it easier to discriminate against gay people.

Last week, Trump made history as the first Republican to mention the LGBTQ community during a GOP nomination acceptance speech, when he vowed to protect it from Islamic terrorism.

Other Republicans have been criticized for not even accepting the premise that transgender identity is legitimate. Former presidential candidate Ben Carson, for instance, called it “the height of absurdity.”

“There are biological markers that tell us whether we are a male or a female, and just because you wake up one day and you say, ‘I think I’m the other one,’ that doesn’t change it. A leopard can’t change its spots,” Carson said to Yahoo News last week.

In response, McBride said she has known she was transgender her entire life and identifying as female was not something she did casually one morning.

In 2012, McBride publicly came out as transgender in an op-ed titled “The Real Me” for American University’s student newspaper, The Eagle, a day after finishing her term as the school’s student body president.

“For my entire life, I’ve wrestled with my gender identity. It was only after the experiences of this year that I was able to come to terms with what had been my deepest secret: I’m transgender,” she wrote. “For me, it has been present my whole life, but, for the longest time, I couldn’t accept it.”

Sarah McBride speaks at a Human Rights Campaign dinner in Nashville, March 5, 2016. (Photo: Wade Payne/Invision/AP)
Sarah McBride speaks at a Human Rights Campaign dinner in Nashville, March 5, 2016. (Photo: Wade Payne/Invision/AP)

Later that year, she took an internship at the White House — becoming the first transgender woman to work there. She went on to work for the liberal think tank Center for American Progress, and became one of the most prominent young voices for the transgender community.

On June 19, 2013, Delaware Gov. Jack Markell publicly thanked McBride after signing into law the Gender Identity Nondiscrimination Act, which ensures equal legal protections for transgender men or women in the state. Before the bill, it had been legal to kick transgender people out of stores, deny them housing or fire them because of their gender identity.

“I especially want to thank my friend Sarah McBride, an intelligent and talented Delawarean who happens to be transgender,” Markell said at the time. “She courageously stood before the general assembly to describe her personal struggles with gender identity and communicate her desire to return home after her college graduation without fear. Her tireless advocacy for passage of this legislation has made a real difference for all transgender people in Delaware.”

McBride, who had been standing by Markell’s side while he announced the new law, spoke next. She thanked Delaware’s legislators for their compassion and courage, the governor and attorney general for their support and the LGBT activists and allies who worked toward that goal.

“After today’s vote, transgender people now know that Delaware is a safe and welcoming state for everyone to live and work,” she said.

On Wednesday, McBride said she wants to make sure that transgender people across the United States are protected. She said transgender people are not just part of the American story but are a facet of human diversity and have existed in all times and cultures.

“This degree of hate and prejudice we have toward transgender people, that is a choice. And we do not need to continue to make that choice,” she said. “We can open our hearts and change our minds and treat every person in this country with dignity and fairness. And frankly, that’s what Hillary Clinton is calling for and that’s what this election’s about.”

_____

Related slideshows:

On the ground at the DNC — a photo report >>>

How newspapers covered the historic second day of the DNC >>>

Bernie Sanders’ supporters make a last stand >>>

Sanders supporters weep at DNC >>>

How newspapers covered the DNC’s first big day >>>

Demonstrators protest outside the DNC >>>