clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Sarah McBride becomes the first openly trans person elected to a state Senate seat

This makes McBride the highest-ranking openly trans official in American history.

Sarah McBride has defeated Republican opponent Steve Washington.
Jason Minto/AP

Delaware has just made history by electing Sarah McBride — now the highest-ranking openly transgender official in the country — to the state Senate.

McBride’s victory, which was reported by the New York Times, was expected. (The LGBTQ Victory Fund, an organization devoted to electing LGBTQ individuals, also called the race for McBride.) Her Republican opponent, Steve Washington, never gained traction in a district where then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton won nearly 70 percent of the vote in 2016.

McBride, 30, has built on a career that’s been focused on securing LGBTQ equality, working in roles at the Human Rights Campaign and Equality Delaware, in addition to the campaigns of former Delaware Gov. Jack Markell and former state Attorney General Beau Biden.

But while she has drawn on her work with the HRC and on nondiscrimination legislation, she told Vox that her campaign has been focused on health care affordability, universal paid family and medical leave, universal pre-K, and criminal justice reform.

McBride has been the target of transphobic harassment — as well as anti-trans Facebook posts made by her opponent — but she told Vox that the vast majority of voters never bring up her identity. “Voters in this district are fair-minded and they’re judging candidates based on their ideas and not their identities,” she said. “They’re looking for candidates with the imagination and the energy and the experience to meet this moment with meaningful results.”

As German Lopez reported for Vox, McBride came to political prominence in 2016 when she “made history” by becoming “the first openly trans person to address a national party convention.” In her 2016 DNC speech, McBride challenged America: “Will we be a nation where there’s only one way to love, one way to look, one way to live? Or will we be a nation where everyone has the freedom to live openly and equally; a nation that’s stronger together?”

McBride’s victory comes at a time when lawmakers in state legislatures across the country have been introducing laws targeting transgender and nonbinary people — from barring health care for trans youth to banning female trans athletes from competing in girls’ and women’s sports.

HRC spokesperson Lucas Acosta argues that legislation like this “is backlash from opponents of equality, not backlash from the American people. ... It is so clear that the public is supportive of equality.” Acosta cited the 2017 victory of trans woman Danica Roem to the Virginia House of Delegates and the 2018 victory of Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, who is bisexual, as evidence that even Americans in less progressive parts of the country are voting for LGBTQ candidates despite pushback from state legislators.

A June poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation backs Acosta up: When asked about employment and health care discrimination against trans people, “large majorities across partisan lines, including more than 7 in 10 Republicans, think such discrimination against LGBTQ people should be illegal.”

McBride, for her part, is unsurprised at the juxtaposition between the attacks on LGBTQ communities and the commensurate rise in LGBTQ representation in government. “I think that it’s in those moments that change is forged,” she said.

“The story of every movement for justice, and frankly the story of our country, is the story of everyday people making seemingly impossible change through the most significant crises,” she added. “It’s always in our biggest crises that we take our largest steps forward.”

Sign up for the newsletter Today, Explained

Understand the world with a daily explainer plus the most compelling stories of the day.