By Orion Rummler / The 19th
Sarah McBride announced Monday that she is running for the House of Representatives. If she succeeds, she would become the first-ever transgender member of Congress. That significant potential milestone comes as queer representation and anti-trans rhetoric have steadily grown in those same halls, and across the country.
McBride will be running to replace Democratic Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, the first woman and Black person elected to represent Delaware in Congress, in Delaware’s at-large House seat. Blunt Rochester is running a Senate campaign to replace Democratic Sen. Tom Carper, who is retiring.
McBride, a Delaware native, has deep roots in the state’s politics, and her long history in local policy and LGBTQ+ advocacy helped spark a friendship with President Joe Biden and his family. In 2021, she was sworn in as the country’s first openly transgender state senator — and before that, she was the first transgender person to speak at the Democratic National Convention, in 2016, and the first out trans woman to intern at the White House, in 2012. In her role in the state Senate, she was the country’s highest-elected transgender politician.
But even as McBride and other LGBTQ+ lawmakers make inroads and set records, LGBTQ+ people are facing what the Human Rights Campaign describes as a state of emergency. More than 75 anti-LGBTQ+ bills have been signed into law this year, although many of those laws are being challenged or stalled in court. At the federal level, anti-trans rhetoric has also spread through Congress.
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In an interview with the 19th, McBride said that when she reflects on the current scale of anti-trans legislation, she remembers that sometimes, hope has to be a conscious effort.
“I think there was a false sense of security that a lot of people had over the last decade. There was a sense that if we simply worked for it, change was inevitable. But the reality is that inevitably is the exception in our nation’s history,” she said. Previous generations have faced seemingly insurmountable odds, she said, including greater odds than what the trans community faces now. She finds hope in that history — and in the history of LGBTQ+ Americans.
“From Stonewall to the steps of the Supreme Court, it has always been in our biggest challenges that we take our most significant steps forward. And I truly believe that if we summon our hope, and we persevere, that we can ensure that the story of this moment will not be the story of bigotry and backlash, but of progress and pride,” she said.
Delaware is a blue state; Biden, who represented the state in the U.S. Senate for 36 years, won by a 19-point margin in 2020, and all statewide elected offices are held by Democrats. But the Democratic primary field is not yet settled. McBride plans to prioritize door-knocking and face-to-face campaigning ahead of the September 2024 primary, she said, and views every voter as a priority, as she’s reluctant to dismiss any particular constituency by naming a primary base.
McBride said her proudest accomplishment while in the state Senate was the implementation of a statewide paid family and medical leave insurance program, which created a paid leave trust fund for employees to care for family or themselves while dealing with a serious health condition. She also sponsored a constitutional amendment to add gender identity and sexual orientation to Delaware’s constitutional equal rights amendment, sponsored legislation to ban the “LGBTQ+ panic” defense in the state, and co-chaired Delaware’s first caucus of LGBTQ lawmakers.
When asked what legislation she would push for to help LGBTQ+ people in Delaware if she’s elected to the House, McBride said that fighting for policies like affordable early-childhood education, paid family and medical leave, criminal justice reform, gun safety, and reproductive rights is inextricably part of advancing LGBTQ+ equality.
She also plans to co-sponsor the Equality Act, which she previously worked on as an advocate. The recently reintroduced bill, which has stalled in Congress for years, would extend civil rights and anti-discrimination protections to LGBTQ+ people at the federal level.
McBride isn’t the first transgender person to run for Congress — Alexandra Chandler ran unsuccessfully to represent Massachusetts’ 3rd Congressional District in 2018.
If she wins, making history would not be new for McBride — two months after she came out as a trans woman, she was accepted for her White House internship. And being a first of any kind comes with a responsibility of making sure that you’re not the last, she said — and working to make sure that others with less support can make it through.
“For me, at every step, while there are extra responsibilities that often come with being a first, it demonstrates how lucky I am,” she said. Through difficult experiences like coming out, and caring for her late husband, Andy, during his battle with terminal cancer, she’s had the support of family and friends and from allies in the state — and she knows that many other trans people simply don’t have that support.
McBride’s shot at making history in Congress would take place during a time of massive increase in anti-trans rhetoric and in political attempts to restrict what transgender people, especially minors, are able to do in public life. While simply being in Congress wouldn’t be guaranteed to change someone’s mind, McBride said she does believe that her presence would help undermine anti-trans efforts.
“Having a member of Congress who happens to be trans, who’s also working on all of the issues that matter to the constituents that they represent, that will serve as a powerful counterbalance to the dehumanizing and discriminatory rhetoric we’re seeing from MAGA Republicans,” she said.
According to the Trans Formations Project, a volunteer-run nonprofit, 20 active anti-trans bills have been introduced in Congress. The Trans Legislation Tracker is currently monitoring 27 national anti-trans bills brought in Congress. The data collection site notes there is an unprecedented amount of federal bills to target gender-affirming care for minors, whether trans people can be in the military, education about LGBTQ+ issues, and trans students’ participation in student athletics.
Amid the spread of such legislation, the 118th Congress has already broken the record for having the highest number of openly lesbian, gay and bisexual members in its history, according to the Pew Research Center. Thirteen members are out, with the majority in the House.
LGBTQ+ candidates have also continued to break barriers in state politics. James Roesener last year became the first out trans man elected to a state legislature, while Tina Kotek of Oregon and Maura Healey of Massachusetts became the first out lesbian governors in the country.
When she was growing up, McBride hadn’t thought that it was possible to be herself while serving in public office. That made giving a recent tour of the Delaware capitol to LGBTQ+ youth more special, she said on Twitter.
The kids, she wrote, were unfazed “seeing someone like them in office, which is as it should be. It’s no longer impossible. It’s real,” she said.
Orion Rummler is our LGBTQ+ reporter focusing on state politics, breaking news and the underreported ways that trans and queer people are marginalized. He previously covered breaking news for Axios and contributed research to “Axios on HBO.”