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One Woman's Life After Coming Out As Transgender

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Sarah McBride speaks at the signing of Delaware's Gender Identity Nondiscrimination Act, which she helped pass.
Photo courtesy Sarah McBride
Sarah McBride speaks at the signing of Delaware's Gender Identity Nondiscrimination Act, which she helped pass.

There was a time in the not-so-distant past when Sarah McBride believed she had to choose between her dreams and her identity. But nearly two years after coming out as transgender, she not only continues to pursue her goal of working in politics, but she's also achieving it.

Coming out more than once

The last time Metro Connection interviewed McBride, she had recently come out in a very public manner. After wrapping up her term as American University's student body president, the rising senior wrote an Op-Ed in The Eagle, her school's student-run newspaper. The piece was entitled "The Real Me," and in it McBride, who at that point was still known as "Tim," announced to the AU population what she had kept a secret for years: she's a woman.

In the article, she explains that she'd spent years thinking she had to choose between her identity and her dream of being a politician. She rationalized that if she could make life fairer for other people, then the work would be fulfilling enough to overshadow her own internal struggles.

"I told myself that if I could make 'Tim' worthwhile for other people by changing the world, that being 'Tim' would be worthwhile," she wrote.

But on Christmas Day in 2011, she gathered the courage to tell her family what she had been hiding her entire life.

"I think for me, with regard to my parents, my biggest fear was not that they would reject me but that I would disappoint them," she says. "That by coming out I would simultaneously dash my own dreams and their dreams for me, and I was afraid of letting them down."

Despite that initial anxiety, Sarah says she knew her family would continue to love and support her. But she wasn't so sure about her friends and colleagues.

"I didn't come out for 21 years because I thought that everything I wanted to do with my life, have a family, get a great job, make a change in this world, that the moment I came out, that I would not be able to do any of those things," she says. "That the moment I came out, I would be rejected by my friends, that my dreams would be dashed, and I would be exposed to such unbelievable hate from every corner that I would be shunned basically."

Coming out professionally a second hurdle

But she says that hasn't been the case. Last fall, McBride made history when she became the first-ever transgender woman to work in the White House. Through her internship in the Office of Public Engagement, she was able to work on LGBT issues, an experience she says was among the most inspiring several months of her life. 

"To have the White House say, 'Not only are you a person who needs to be respected and treated fairly, not only do you deserve equal rights, but we view you as a peer in a way that we're going to invite you into our doors and have you work here,'" she says.

But she didn't stop there. A proud Delawarean, McBride is fiercely loyal to the "First State". She says she's always planned on raising a family and growing old where she grew up, so when she learned that her beloved home state lacked the kind of protections that transpeople in D.C. have had for years, she was shocked.

"Prior to June of this year, it was entirely legal in Delaware to fire a person because they were transgender, to not hire a person simply because they were transgender, or to fire them because they came out," she says. "It was perfectly legal to deny them insurance, deny them housing and throw them out of a restaurant or a store, simply because they were living true to themselves."

So she, her parents, and the co-presidents of LGBT advocacy group Equality Delaware, on whose board McBride serves, fought tooth and nail to pass gender identity non-discrimination legislation in Delaware. She and her parents were the only non-experts to testify before the General Assembly on the bill.

Together, they successfully passed the Gender Non-Discrimination Act of 2013 and a marriage equality bill. But it was no cakewalk.

"It was an emotional rollercoaster, to say the least, being out in front and talking about some of the deepest things that for the longest time I had been ashamed to talk about, talking about that before not just the General Assembly, but in some instances the entire state was hard and stressful," she says. "And seeing some of the hate that the opponents spewed at transgender people was also upsetting."

But she had a lot of support. Not only from her family, but from another clan: the Bidens. After coming out, McBride got a call from Delaware's Attorney General Beau Biden. She had worked for Biden during his 2006 and 2010 elections, back when she was known as "Tim."

"First he used my correct name and accurate pronouns and said, 'Sarah, I just wanted you to know, I'm so proud of you. I love you, and you're still a part of the Biden family,'" she says.

She says the "cherry on top" came right before President Obama's second inauguration, during an event at the Vice President's home.

"I went up to the Vice President to get a picture, and without saying anything, the Vice President saw me and he grabbed my arm and he said 'Hey, kid, I just wanted to let you know I am so proud of you, and Beau is so proud of you, and Jill is so proud of you. And I'm so happy that you're happy.' And he gave me a big hug," she says, adding that it was inspiring to see the Vice President, his family, and the Governor of Delaware embrace not only her, but also the broader transgender community.

"I was afraid that all of the work that I had done in my life would be for naught and that these people who I had looked up to, the Vice President, the Attorney General of Delaware, the Governor of Delaware, that those people would say 'You're just too much of a liability. Being transgender is just too different for people to accept and do what you have to do, but we're not going to be there for you, or at least we're not going to be there for you in any public way,'" she says. "That was my fear and it has been the exact opposite."

Paying it forward

She says the experience has made her appreciate the need to fight for equality across the board. 

"If I only care about equality for transgender people, then I am leaving so many people behind," she says. "If I'm not at the same time seeking to end discrimination against people of color, seeking to end discrimination against women, seeking to ensure that people of every religious background have an equal opportunity. If I'm not working to ensure that regardless of the wealth of your family that you're born into that you have a fair chance at a good job and a fulfilling life, if I'm not working towards all of those goals, then one, I'm leaving a lot of people behind, and two, I'm only going to be solving the problems for the most privileged in my own community."

McBride says there's still a lot of work to be done, but she's heartened to see society moving in that direction. 

"Now that I know that Delaware is safe and welcoming, I want to go back home," she says. "I want to go back to where my family is, where I was born and raised, and I want to get back involved there and continue that work that I've been doing all my life, which is to engage in the political process and in government to better our society. To make things a little more fair and a little more equal for everyone."

[Music: "The Real Me" by Steve Cole from Spin]

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