Sarah McBride says she loves politics and loves her home state of Delaware.
A native of Wilmington, McBride, 21, has been active in Delaware politics since the age of 13 and worked on the 2008 election campaign of Gov. Jack Markell (D). When Markell won the Democratic primary in September 2008, he and his wife Carla invited McBride to introduce the future governor on the stage where he delivered his victory speech.
All of that, McBride points out, unfolded around Tim McBride, the person she informed her fellow students at American University last week that she had officially transitioned from.
“For my entire life, I’ve wrestled with my gender identity,” she wrote in a May 1 op-ed column in the Eagle, American University’s student newspaper. “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.”
In an interview with the Blade this week, McBride said she’s known as long as she can remember that her true gender was that of a female. But she suppressed taking action on that realization out of fear that her longstanding desire to become active in politics and eventually run for public office would be jeopardized if she changed her gender, she said.
“For the longest time my only ambition was to become an elected official and to change the world through that,” she told the Blade. “Those goals and those dreams sort of went hand in hand.”
Tim McBride advanced that goal shortly after beginning as a freshman political science student at American University in 2009. With political experience gained in Delaware as a backdrop, McBride won election to the A.U. student senate before winning election last year as president of the A.U. student government.
She submitted her op-ed column to the Eagle on the day after her term as student president ended and, upon completion of her junior year this spring, with one year to go before her graduation in June 2013.
In the column she noted that she came out as transgender to her parents and closest friends during the winter recess this year.
“Today is the next day of the life I’ve already had, but at the same time, the first day of the life I always knew I wanted to lead,” she said in the column. “Starting on Saturday, I will present as my true self. Going forward, I ask that you use female pronouns (she/her) and my chosen name, Sarah.”
In an interview with the Blade on Wednesday, McBride said the response on campus has been overwhelmingly positive.
“I always knew that I went to an inclusive and accepting school,” she said. “But the outpouring of love and support was so far beyond my expectations. I’ve never been prouder to go to A.U.”
She added, “And I really do hope this experience for our campus is not a blip on the gossip mill. I hope it’s an opportunity to raise awareness for a sustained inclusion and awareness of trans students.”
McBride said she considers herself privileged coming from a supportive, upper-income family that had the means to send her to a supportive university in the nation’s capital. Many transgender young people encounter far less supportive families and face discrimination and prejudice at every turn.
Among her goals is to work with the transgender and LGBT community to fight discrimination. She said her dreams to advance that goal by becoming involved in electoral politics in her home state were boosted in March when she came out to Gov. Markell and his wife, First Lady Carla Markell.
“They were incredible,” she said. “They were amazing. “They’re two of the best people I know and beyond my parents they are some of my biggest mentors and supporters. When I told them it was unconditional love from them. They said they were just as proud of me and that they were there for me 100 percent.”
She said other political leaders in the state have been similarly supportive. Although as Tim McBride and now as Sarah she has been known as a loyal Democratic Party activist, McBride said, “All of the active Republicans I know have sent me messages of love and support as well.”
McBride said she has accumulated enough college credits to spend the fall semester working as an intern with the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, where she hopes to help the organization elect openly LGBT people to public office throughout the country, including two openly gay candidates running for office in Delaware.
She would complete her senior year at A.U. next spring. She’s considering law school or graduate school sometime in the future, with politics still on the horizon.
“This entire experience has taught me that the goal of changing the world is a good goal,” she said, adding that seeking to become an elected official should be a means rather than an end to “improving and changing your community and your world…So that’s sort of been my readjustment of my life in terms of my dreams and my ambitions.”
Among those who have helped guide and mentor her in the process of transitioning has been Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, McBride said.
“She’s going to be a real powerhouse in whatever she does,” Keisling told the Blade. “She’s very politically savvy, very politically connected. I’m very excited not only that she’s transitioning but she’s transitioning with a real strong sense of social justice and political acumen.”
Keisling added, “So I’m hopeful for real big things for Sarah.”