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Trans Activist Sarah McBride to Make History at DNC

Twenty-five-year-old Sarah McBride will make history Thursday when she steps out as the first transgender person to address a major party convention.
Human Rights Campaign Los Angeles Gala 2015
Activist Sarah McBride speaks onstage during the Human Rights Campaign Los Angeles Gala 2015 at JW Marriott Los Angeles at L.A. LIVE on March 14, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.Jason Kempin / Getty Images for Human Rights Campaign

Twenty-five-year-old Sarah McBride will make history Thursday night when she takes center stage at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia as the first openly transgender person to address a major party convention.

McBride, who currently works as the national press secretary for the Human Rights Campaign, is no stranger to breaking down barriers. Four years ago, as student body president at American University, the then-21-year-old made national headlines when she came out as transgender in the school’s student-run paper, The Eagle. Later in 2012, she interned at the White House Office of Public Engagement -- the first out trans woman to work at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

More recently, McBride stepped into the national spotlight for a viral selfie she took while inside a women’s restroom in North Carolina, where a controversial law enacted last March bans transgender people from using government building bathrooms in line with their gender identities.

On Thursday, McBride will add another “first” to her name -- this time, at the Democratic National Convention.

“I’m certainly excited to have this opportunity,” she told NBC News in a phone interview this week. “I just hope I do my community proud.”

In her address, McBride is planning to drive home two central points, she said, the first being that “despite the historic progress over the last several years, a lot of work remains for the LGBTQ community until we’re treated equally in law and society.”

“I really want to use this moment to reinforce and underscore that behind this debate on trans equality, there are real people who are seeking dignity and fairness throughout their lives."

President Obama has presided over unprecedented gains for the LGBT equality movement, including the legalization of nationwide same-sex marriage and the end of bans based on sexual orientation and gender identity in the military, to name a few. Moving forward, a major goal for LGBT rights advocates will be passing the Equality Act, which would essentially extend to LGBT Americans the same level of protection currently guaranteed under the 1964 Civil Rights Act -- a landmark piece of legislation that broadly prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion, race, gender, national origin and disability. Hillary Clinton has said that she would make the Equality Act her “highest priority” as president.

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But beyond legislative goals, McBride also wants to take time in her speech to get to the true heart of the transgender rights debate, one that on a policy level is perhaps too often reduced to heated rhetoric about where people can go to the bathroom.

“I really want to use this moment to reinforce and underscore that behind this debate on trans equality, there are real people who are seeking dignity and fairness throughout their lives, people who hurt when we are ridiculed and mocked and discriminated against, people who are facing violence,” McBride said. “I want to make sure that people realize the humanity behind the conversation.”

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Her speech at the DNC comes exactly one week after another history-making moment for LGBT equality: Last Thursday, billionaire tech entrepreneur Peter Thiel become the first person to publicly announce to the GOP convention that he is gay. Some Republicans hailed those remarks as part of a broader Republican effort to reach out to LGBT voters. But McBride didn’t read it that way.

“I think we’re long past the point where merely saying the letters ‘LGBTQ’ should be seen as progress,” said McBride, noting that the GOP had also last week adopted one of the most anti-LGBT platforms imaginable and nominated a vice president known for signing a controversial “religious freedom” law widely perceived as discriminatory toward LGBT individuals.

“I don’t the think the LGBTQ community is fooled,” she said.

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As for criticisms from the left about Clinton’s record on LGBT equality -- attacks centered mainly on her relatively late support for same-sex marriage, which Clinton officially endorsed in 2013 -- McBride is equally dismissive. She called the former secretary of state’s 2010 approval of a passport policy that allows transgender people to change their gender markers using a doctor’s note “a milestone in the trans rights movement.”

“The reality is that Hillary Clinton has been a steadfast supporter of LGBT equality,” McBride said. “She has evolved on the issue of LGBT equality, and I think we are a better movement when we give people space to grow and learn. We can’t reduce it to a single issue like marriage equality.”

Considering McBride will address the DNC on the same night as Clinton, the first woman to ever be nominated by a major party for president, it’s hard not to wonder whether the young activist has political ambitions of her own. But for now, McBride said, it’s “not on [her] radar.”

“I love politics, love government, and I definitely want to stay involved. But I don’t know if I’d ever want to run for office,” the Delaware native said.

“Obviously,” she added, “never say never.”

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