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A First in the First State

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Delaware native Sarah McBride describes her journey to becoming the first openly transgender state senator in American history

composite image of three speakers on a zoom screen

​​​

National Agenda student Margo Gordon joined the Q&A portion of the National Agenda 2021 event on November 3 as an "audience surrogate" presenting questions from the online audience to National Agenda Director Lindsay Hoffman and guest speaker Sarah McBride.​

By Nicole Travis, University of Delaware Senior and intern for the University of Delaware's Center for Political Communication

Watch the vide​o. Read the transcript.

NEWARK, Del. —​ “My interest in advocacy really stems from my earliest memories as a young person struggling with my gender identity," said Sarah McBride, a politician, author, and community activist. “And I think even more than that, struggling with my place in this world." On Nov. 3, 2021, the University of Delaware National Agenda Speaker Series —​ now in its 11th year —​ welcomed McBride, who represents the First State Senate District in northern Delaware.

McBride was the featured speaker in the fifth event of the “Reflecting America" series, presented by the Center for Political Communication. ​In a conversation with series director Lindsay Hoffman, Ph.D., McBride described her path to becoming the first openly transgender state senator in American history. Viewers joined the webinar from China, Nigeria, and states across the United States, to hear firsthand about the challenges and opportunities McBride has encountered in her transition and during her early career.

Before taking office in 2020, the Wilmington, Delaware, native worked for former Governor Jack Markell and the late Beau Biden during his tenure as Delaware's attorney general. McBride was also a White House intern during the Obama administration. She led the successful effort to pass a landmark non-discrimination law in Delaware in 2013, worked with state leaders to expand health care coverage by Medicaid in 2014, and championed legislation protecting vulnerable youth from child abuse in 2017. Most recently, she served as a spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest LGBTQ equal rights organization. Sarah McBride has also taught public policy at the University of Delaware and is the author of the 2018 memoir, “Tomorrow Will be Different."

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​Delaware State Senator Sarah McBride joined the National Agenda speaker series on Nov. 3. She described her journey to becoming the first transgender state senator in U.S. history.​

With this lengthy list of accomplishments under her belt, it might be surprising that young Sarah McBride originally dreamt of becoming an architect. While reading about historic buildings, she was captivated by some books about the architecture of the U.S. Capitol and the White House. “What I was struck by, and what I began to marvel at, was not the buildings or the architecture itself, but rather the stories within their walls; the history that occurred within those buildings," McBride said.

McBride also recognized an opportunity for advocacy. “And I think what became obvious was that the through line in our country's history — that politics at its best, that government when it's working right — is the story of advocates, activists, and a handful of elected officials working together to bring people in from the shadows and the margins to create a more equal and a more just world," McBride said. “I found hope in those stories that perhaps the chapter that I was living through could be a chapter where people like me could finally be brought into that circle of opportunity, to be included, to be accepted."

Despite her fears, McBride eventually came out when she was a junior in college. “I was really scared about the reaction, but I was also very lucky," McBride said. “With the love and support of my family, with the support of my friends every single day since coming out, I've seen that my greatest fears didn't end up coming to fruition. That I could live my truth, dream big dreams, and pursue those dreams all at the same time. That I could find love, live in a community I love, and do work that I love as my authentic self."

McBride said she learned that running for local office could be the best antidote to political toxicity, negativity, and division. “When you go door to door, when you have conversations with voters ... you really do see how much we actually have in common," she said. “And I really think it's important to stress that we're going to have real disagreements, that's fine. That's a democracy. That's often-times healthy. But to know that there is a lot that binds us. And to have that, I'm really grateful," McBride continued. “Win or lose, I would say if you want to fall deeper in love with your community, run for office. And partly that will be because you will see the goodness of people that you talk with on the doors, and that's across the political divide."

McBride shared some advice for people who feel held back based on their gender identity, sexual orientation, or race. “I think to understand that those of us who do it are not fearless, but we are facing our fears. And we're facing that anxiety, and we're facing that voice in our head, and we're saying: it just might not work out. Failure is possible. I might make a fool of myself, but it's still worth trying," McBride said. “What I come away with entering the general assembly as my authentic self, being sworn in next to two trans teens, [then] coming in and having a desk in between a 33-year-old mom of two and an amazing black queer social worker, [I have learned] that nothing is truly impossible. In fact, the only things that are impossible are the things that we don't try. And so, I'd say whatever you're thinking about doing, go for it. Even if it's never been done, you can be the one that does it."​​

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About National Agenda

​For information about National Agenda, including links to videos, news stories, and transcripts, visit cpc.udel.edu/​nationalagenda. Lindsay Hoffman, Ph.D., an associate professor of communication and political science at UD, directs the series. This year's theme, "Reflecting America," examines how this historic era of political divides, social movements, and economic upheavals — fueled by the pandemic and politics — is redefining America. National Agenda is free and open to the public. It is made possible with support from the University of Delaware's Office of the Provost and the College of Arts and Sciences. ​

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