PHILADELPHIA — History was made Thursday when an openly transgender person spoke for the first time ever at a major U.S. party convention and declared she was a “proud transgender American.”
Sarah McBride, a transgender activist now affiliated with the Human Rights Campaign, enjoyed the historic distinction on the final day of the Democratic National Convention.
“My name is Sarah McBride, and I am a proud transgender American,” she said, eliciting an eruption of applause from attendees within the Wells Fargo Arena.
Within the audience, attendees help up at least two large banners resembling the rainbow Pride flag and another two bearing the Human Rights Campaign icon. One woman wearing a Clinton campaign shirt and wearing a rainbow scarf waved it in celebration.
“Four years ago, I came out as transgender while serving as student body president in college,” McBride continued. “At the time, I was scared. I worried that my dreams and my identity were mutually exclusive. Since then though, I have seen that change is possible.”
At age of 25, McBride has had a hand in moving forward with transgender rights across the country, including the enactment of a law in her home state of Delaware prohibiting discrimination against transgender people. Since that time, she has taken on roles as a White House intern as well as work on LGBT rights at the Center for American Progress and the Human Rights Campaign.
“But despite our progress, so much work remains,” McBride said. “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? That is the question in this election.”
McBride invoked the memory of her late spouse and fellow transgender activist Andrew Cray, who died in 2014 at age 28 after a battle with cancer. Among Cray’s accomplishments were LGBT outreach for the Affordable Care Act and working to ensure states prohibit anti-trans discrimination in health care.
“Knowing Andy left me profoundly changed,” McBride said. “More than anything, his passing taught me that every day matters when it comes to building a world where every person can live their life to the fullest.”
The work in transgender advocacy to which both she and her late spouse were committed is the reason, McBride said, she’s committed to seeing Hillary Clinton elected as president.
“Hillary Clinton understands the urgency of our fight,” McBride said. “She will work with us to pass the Equality Act, to combat violence against transgender women of color, and to end the HIV and AIDS epidemic once and for all.”
Winnie Stachelberg, vice president of external affairs at the Center for American Progress, was in attendance at the convention and said McBride’s remarks were “historic.”
“As the first transgender [person] to speak at a convention, I think it sends a signal to this country that Hillary Clinton as president will be for fairness and equality for all people — all LGBT people — but all people,” Stachelberg said.
Recalling McBride’s time at the Center for American Progress, Stachelberg said McBride “spoke from heart,” and is an “incredible advocate.”
“The significance, I think, can’t be overstated, but is also, I think, a signal of the kind of the progress that the LGBTQ movement has achieved,” Stachelberg said.
Sharing the stage with McBride was Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), a gay lawmaker in the U.S. House representing at convention the LGBT Equality Caucus and referenced the U.S. Supreme Court decision in favor of same-sex marriage.
“It’s a beautiful thing when your country catches up to you, and when your basic rights and your very family are on the line, it matters what happens what happens in those beautiful buildings with marble columns, it matters who’s leading the country and it matters if they care,” Maloney said.
Maloney sought to draw a distinction between himself and Peter Thiel, the openly gay speaker at the Republican National Convention last week, criticizing him for apparently being dismissive of LGBT rights efforts.
“Last week, a speaker at the Republican National Convention called equality, quote, a ‘distraction,'” Maloney said. “‘Who cares?’ he asked. Well, I care. My husband Randy and our three children care. These LGBT leaders standing with me and throughout this whole of the country care. The authors of our nation’s Declaration of Independence, signed right here in Philadelphia, they care. Americans at Seneca Falls, Selma and Stonewall, they care. And Hillary Clinton cares, too.”
Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, also spoke Thursday during an earlier time slot at the Democratic convention, rebuking Trump for anti-LGBT positions the candidate has taken in contrast with Clinton’s views.
“Long before Donald Trump struggled to read the letters ‘LGBTQ’ off a teleprompter last week, Hillary Clinton stood before the United Nations and boldly declared that gay rights are human rights and human rights are gay rights,” Griffin said.
Griffin drew attention to Trump selecting running mate notoriously anti-LGBT Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, whom Griffin said “tried to divert HIV funding in order to finance the abusive practice of ‘conversion therapy.'”
“Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, is committed to stopping the spread of HIV, banning conversion therapy for minors, and ending the hate and violence our community still faces,” Griffin said.
Invoking Clinton’s campaign theme “Stronger Together,” McBride concluded her remarks by saying the election of Hillary Clinton would help advance the lives of LGBT people and all Americans.
“Today in America, LGBTQ people are targeted by hate that lives in both laws and hearts,” McBride said. “Many still struggle just to get by. But I believe tomorrow can be different. Tomorrow, we can be respected and protected. Especially if Hillary Clinton is our president. And that’s why I’m proud to stand here and say that I’m with her.”