The Democratic convention made history on Thursday: Sarah McBride, a transgender woman, became the first openly trans person to address a national party convention.
“My name is Sarah McBride, and I am a proud transgender American,” she said. “Today in America, LGBTQ people are targeted by hate that lives in both laws and hearts. Many still struggle just to get by. But I believe tomorrow can be different. Tomorrow, we can be respected and protected.”
To some degree, her appearance at the Democratic convention may seem like the natural evolution of LGBTQ politics in America. Democrats have been very vocal on LGBTQ rights over the past few years — most recently standing against laws that ban trans people from using the bathroom for their gender identity.
But while this may seem obvious now, it’s a remarkable shift from just eight years ago — when LGBTQ people really didn’t have a party; they had a big compromise.
It’s true Democrats were always friendlier to LGBTQ people. Even “don’t ask, don’t tell” (DADT) — now widely reviled as an outdated anti-LGBTQ policy — was supposed to be a small nudge forward from a total ban on LGBTQ soldiers in the military. And Democrats like California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom were some of the first to speak out for marriage equality more than a decade ago.
But there were limits. President Barack Obama didn’t support same-sex marriage when he was elected in 2008, and he wouldn’t publicly support it until 2012. (Hillary Clinton would take until 2013.)
While many Democrats criticized DADT, it wasn’t clear whether they would really make repealing it a priority. And it was even less clear whether they would prioritize repealing the ban on openly serving trans service members — a ban separate from DADT — after that.
Similarly, while Democrats have long pushed for ending discrimination against LGBTQ people, it wasn’t obvious that they would actually make a serious push for a law doing that in the workplace — as they did (and failed) in 2013 — or that the Obama administration would risk legal battles with several states to stand up for trans people’s right to use the bathroom for their gender identity.
But Democrats ultimately did all of that.
There is still work to do, of course. Most states still allow discrimination against LGBTQ people in the workplace, housing, public accommodations, and education. Exactly how the military will implement the end of its ban on open trans people remains a work in progress. Whether the Supreme Court will rule to interpret federal civil rights laws to include LGBTQ people, as some advocates hope, remains an open question.
But there has been remarkable progress in the past eight years. Going forward, LGBTQ people also finally seem to have a major political party fully behind them.