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Sarah McBride wasn't running to be the 'trans' state senator. But she became the 1st.

The Delaware legislator, a nationally known trailblazer, says she wants transgender Americans "present at all levels of government."
Image: Sen. Sarah McBride.
State Sen. Sarah McBride of Delaware.NBC News; AP

[June is Pride Month, and this year we're celebrating by honoring 30 LGBTQ firsts. To see the full list, visit]

Sarah McBride always knew she wanted to be involved in politics. But when she came out as a transgender woman in her senior year at American University, running for office seemed out of reach.

"And for a long time it just was not a consideration, not a possibility," said McBride, 30.

So she dived into advocacy work: She interned with the Obama administration — becoming the first out transgender woman to work in the White House — and she worked on Beau Biden's two campaigns for attorney general of Delaware. She then became national press secretary for the Human Rights Campaign, the country's largest LGBTQ rights group.

When Delaware Gov. Jack Markell signed the state's Gender Identity Nondiscrimination Act into law in 2013, he singled out McBride's "tireless advocacy" to get the legislation passed, BuzzFeed reported.

Still, the desire to affect change from inside the system lingered.

"I saw how integral state legislatures are," McBride said. "It's where rubber meets the road. I saw that in order to achieve equality, we need to be present at all levels of government."

The 2016 presidential race proved pivotal for McBride, as it did for so many Americans. Then just 25, she became the first trans person to speak at a major political convention when she addressed Democrats in Philadelphia.

The election of Republican president Donald Trump sparked a "rainbow wave" of gay political involvement: A record number of LGBTQ candidates threw their hats in the ring in the 2018 midterm elections.

McBride credits Virginia Del. Danica Roem, who became the first transgender member of a state legislature in 2017, "for showing me how an impossibility can become possible."

So in July 2019, after long-serving Democrat Harris McDowell announced that he was retiring, McBride decided to run for his seat.

While being a part of the LGBTQ community was an integral facet of her identity, she said, she was determined that it wouldn't define her candidacy.

"I said from the first day of my campaign that I wasn't running to be the 'trans' senator," she said. "I wanted to do right by the transgender community, but the way to do that was to be the best state senator I could. I was running to be the health care senator and the paid-leave senator. Those were the issues rooted with my constituents." They were also deeply rooted with McBride: Her husband, Andy Cray, died from cancer just days after their wedding in 2014.

In the September Democratic primary, McBride won over 91 percent of the vote, and two months later she handily defeated Republican Steve Washington in the general election.

But McBride said that even though she was running in Delaware's deep-blue 1st District, she took nothing for granted.

"I really think I was the last person to believe I was going to win," McBride said. "I truly was wondering whether it would be possible. I knew the numbers were on my side, but I ran like I was 5 points behind."

She described the feeling on election night as "surreal." Although she wouldn't be sworn in until January, Delaware election regulations meant she would technically be taking office at midnight that night.

"It was surreal that we won and that I was taking office right away and surreal that this whole year-and-a-half-long chapter of my life had reached this finish line," she said.

McBride's supporters were less surprised.

"Sarah has been making history and blazing trails for years," Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David said. "Her accomplishments and victories show all of us — from trans and nonbinary young people to the entire LGBTQ community — that we can achieve whatever we dream."

McBride is chair of the Health and Human Services Committee, a post she assumed during the middle of a pandemic. "A lot of the work is supporting the administration's effort to get vaccines out efficiently and equitably," she said.

Her No. 1 legislative priority, however, is Senate Bill 1, a paid family and medical leave insurance act.

"It offers up to 12 weeks for Delawareans to take care of loved ones, to bond with their child — to ensure we have healthy people in this state," she said.

She told Health magazine this year that when she was caring for her husband during his battle with terminal cancer, "I saw the importance of health care and the critical support we need to provide as a society to caregivers," adding: "I have long believed, as my husband said, that 'health care is the first right.' It is the foundational right that we all need in order to live and thrive in our communities."

As the U.S. turns the corner on one of the worst health crises in history, Pride Month, a time of LGBTQ celebration and reflection, is just beginning. Asked what Pride means to her, McBride described it as a "call to action."

"It's a reminder of how far we've come and how far we need to go," she said. "It's our individual and collective ability to bring about seemingly impossible change. But it's also a reminder of how issues intersect in our fight for dignity and respect for all people."

To see this year's full Pride 30 list, visit

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