November 11, 2020 at 12:10 pm EST | by Parker Purifoy
Sarah McBride prepares for new role
Delaware state Sen.-elect Sarah McBride (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Sarah McBride said she didn’t run for the Delaware state Senate to make history or headlines, but her victory on Nov. 3 over Republican Steve Washington did just that. 

She is the first openly transgender person to be elected to a state’s senate and come January, will be the highest-ranking out trans state legislator in the U.S.

“I’m looking forward to being able to roll up my sleeves and, and help to implement the kinds of policies and changes that we just spent the last year fighting for,” she said during an interview. “It’s an unbelievable privilege to be able to represent this community in the Delaware state Senate, a community that I was born and raised in, a community that’s helped support me and sustain me through some of the most difficult challenges in my own life, a community that that reflects the vibrant and beautiful diversity of Delaware in so many ways.”

McBride was expected to win handily in the heavily “blue” 1st Senate district which includes parts of Wilmington. The LGBTQ Victory Fund, which seeks to elect LGBTQ people to political office, declared the race for McBride shortly after polls closed at 8 p.m.—she ended up claiming more than 70 percent of the votes. 

McBride previously worked as national press secretary for the Human Rights Campaign. When she addressed the Democratic National Convention in 2016, she became the first openly trans person to speak at the major party convention in the U.S.

McBride is part of the wave that nearly doubled the amount of trans and gender non-conforming candidates elected to state legislatures around the country. Eight of them were elected or re-elected on Nov. 3.

She said the increasing number of trans legislators proves voters are beginning to look past candidates’ identities that were previously considered handicaps in politics. 

“Whatever message was sent by my campaign was not sent by me but was sent instead by the voters in my district,” said McBride. “Voters are looking for candidates who are authentic and will fight for what they believe in. I think that desire for authenticity and courage in elected officials transcends geography, political ideology, and party affiliation.”

While she wouldn’t describe it as pressure, McBride said she feels a responsibility to ensure that she isn’t the last LGBTQ person who can hold a position like hers.

“I certainly feel a responsibility to ensure that we grow not just the numbers, but the full diversity of LGBTQ people who have a seat at the table,” she said. “But I also know that the only way that I can fulfill that responsibility to the LGBTQ community is to be the best state senator possible for the residents of my district. Ultimately, that’s what I’m focused on.”

The coronavirus pandemic, which shut down businesses in Delaware for months, forced McBride’s campaign to “get creative” when reaching out to voters. She said they ramped up their phone banking efforts to have conversations with people safely. McBride’s campaign was already focused around reforming healthcare, the criminal justice system, and providing paid family and medical leave for families in her district. The pandemic, she said, only helped to drive home to her points. 

“We recognize that no one should have to give up their income in the face of a global pandemic. But whether it’s COVID, or cancer, the more fundamental truth is that no one should have to give up their income in the face of any illness,” she said. “And so from the start of this campaign, I was focused on health care and paid family medical leaves and COVID-19 only reinforced the urgency of those issues.”

Delaware, as a state, voted resoundingly to put President-elect Joe Biden into the Oval Office. McBride has a close personal relationship with the Biden family, having worked for Beau Biden when he was Delaware’s attorney general. McBride said she has become much closer with the president-elect after Beau Biden died in 2015 and after her husband Andrew Cray died in 2014—both after battles with cancer. 

“[Biden] is a decent, kind, compassionate, big hearted person and I’m thrilled that he will be leading our country in just a few short months,” McBride said. “I certainly felt like so many people across this country felt unbelievable relief that Donald Trump had lost the presidency and excitement that we will have in the White House, two leaders in Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, who listen to the data and the science and the experts, will approach issues with compassion, and who have a record of delivering meaningful results for so many people across this country.”

In Biden’s victory speech Saturday evening, he spoke of uniting the country and rebuilding the soul of a divided nation. McBride said that for her, running for local office was the “perfect antidote” for the toxicity of national politics. 

“When you spend your days running for local and state office, you talk to dozens, if not hundreds of voters a day and in those conversations, you see just how much we do have in common,” she said. “The hopes and the fears and the challenges facing a single mom who votes for a Democrat are the same as the challenges that face a single mom who votes Republican. You see how hungry people are for politics that’s rooted in compassion and so I’m incredibly hopeful that we can begin to heal some of the divisions in our politics.”

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