How Sarah McBride, the First Openly Trans State Senator, Plans to Bring Equity to Health Care

The Delaware lawmaker, elected last November, is the first openly trans state senator, and now the advocate-turned-politician is committed to making everyone feel seen and heard through her legislation. 

senator sarah mcbride
Courtesy of McBride

What's your first memory of being involved in politics?

As a kid, I was really interested in architecture and used to read books about various buildings around the world, including the Capitol and the White House. And what struck me was the history that occurred within those walls. At the same time, I was struggling with my gender identity, and I feared that living my truth would mean giving up on any kind of future. But through that young interest in architecture, I actually discovered that politics could be the place where you can make the most amount of change. And it provided me a lot of comfort. So I took that knowledge and inner drive and tried to help build a world that was more inclusive. I started showing up for campaigns and knocking on doors, making phone calls, handing out literature, and I caught the bug because in a small state, one person can really make a difference.

In 2012, as the former student body president at American University, you came out in an op-ed titled "The Real Me." What would you tell yourself then that you know now?

That the only things that are truly impossible are the things that we don't try. When I came out, I was so fearful for the future. But in the past 10 years, the change that I have seen has instilled in me an incredible amount of hope—a deep knowledge that change is possible despite the challenges.

You also serve as chair of the Health & Social Services Committee. Why is that sector so important to you?

It's deeply personal for me. My husband was an advocate fighting for health care in underserved communities. And while caring for him during his battle with terminal cancer, I saw the importance of health care and the critical support we need to provide as a society to caregivers. I also heard from my neighbors throughout the campaign about the lack of adequate, comprehensive options across different sectors of care. So I have long believed, as my husband said, that "health care is the first right." It is the foundational right that we all need in order to live and thrive in our communities.

What initiatives or bills are you eager to work on this year?

My number one legislative priority continues to be introducing and passing paid family medical leave, and making Delaware the 10th state in the country to ensure that workers are able to face an illness without having to sacrifice their income.

Let's talk about the Equality Act, the bill that would explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity. What was it like to hear testimonies for and against this cause?

It's been really difficult. The conversation, in many cases, has been mean-spirited, cruel, and dangerous. It puts a target on trans people's backs—not just for bullying or discrimination but also for violence. On the positive side, I was so excited that the country got to meet Stella Keating [a transgender teen and student activist from Washington state] during the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. I met Stella four years ago, and she inspires me more than anyone I've ever met. Young people like Stella hold the power to our future because, in living their truth and dreaming big, they're opening hearts, changing minds, and, in doing so, changing the country.

You've said that you didn't run to "serve as a transgender senator." Why do you feel that's an important distinction to make?

It's important that people understand when we elect candidates of various and particularly marginalized backgrounds, that those officials are going to be able to do the job to its full potential. The only way that I'm not the last, even if I am the first, is to demonstrate widely that trans candidates and trans legislators are passionate about all of the issues that matter to our communities.

This article originally appeared in the June 2021 issue of Health Magazine. Click here to subscribe today!

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