Appearing on the website of American University’s student paper, The Eagle, in the early hours of May 1, 2012, was a profound op-ed that became a revelation. The school’s outgoing student body president, less than one day removed from her position as the representative of her peers, announced to the campus and soon the world that she is transgender. Touching on her love of politics, her internal struggles, and her decision to finally be seen as her true self, Sarah McBride made a clear declaration that she would no longer sacrifice her real identity to her aspirations. She could have them both.
“I now know that my dreams and my identity are only mutually exclusive if I don’t try,” McBride wrote.
McBride would go on to serve as a White House intern, work on the White House Office of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs, and become the first openly transgender person to speak during a major party political convention when she appeared at the 2016 Democratic National Convention. McBride now serves as the national press secretary for the Human Rights Campaign and will speak during this year’s Charleston Pride festival on Mon. Sept. 18, at the College of Charleston School of Sciences and Mathematics building.
“My hope is to start the talk discussing my own personal journey as a transgender person, but then speak more broadly about this moment in the fight for LGBTQ equality and the fact that we find ourselves in a moment of choosing for our country,” says McBride. “It’s a time that requires action by all of us to make sure that we resist the politics of hate and try to move equality forward and continue and move equality forward not just on issues specifically related to sexual orientation or gender identity but all issues that face LGBTQ people and all Americans, including immigrant rights, racial justice, gender equity, etc. This is a critical moment for our movement and for our community.”
As a part of McBride’s talk during Charleston Pride, she will offer advice to local activists and advocates hoping to affect real change on state, local, and national levels. When asked what advice she has to offer for those who may feel overwhelmed or helpless when it comes to addressing large-scale attacks on equality, McBride suggests that the first step is simply showing up.
“Show up at your local protest or show up at your congressperson or senator’s office. Look for opportunities within your local area for ways to resist, for ways to protest, for ways to have your voices heard,” says McBride. “It’s not just the activity in Washington that allows us to resist the politics of hate. It’s also, and frankly more than anything else, it’s these events and actions in big cities and small towns across the country that are demonstrating the breadth of our opposition to the forces of hate and the breadth of support for full equality for every person across the country.”
Another piece of advice from McBride revolves around bridging the “empathy divide” that exists in the country. This means going to your local city hall to lobby for a nondiscrimination ordinance or pressuring state lawmakers to push back against legislation that may threaten equality. McBride argues that nothing is more important than when elected officials are forced to face the very people who will be most affected by their decisions.
“One of the things that I want to stress to anyone is so often, especially when we’re talking about issues like LGBTQ equality, people think that they have to have the most dramatic story. They feel they have to have a story that is filled with discrimination or hatred for their story or their voice to be worthy of consideration or being heard. And while those stories are vital and certainly all too common, I want to impress upon people that we need stories of all kinds,” says McBride. “To open hearts and minds, every story, every voice matters in this fight. Never doubt that you are worthy of having your own story and journey and dignity heard.”
Recently, the Human Rights Campaign joined Lambda Legal and OutServe-SLDN in a legal challenge against President Donald Trump’s call to reinstate a ban against transgender Americans serving in their country’s military. The president’s tweets calling for a ban came as the Senate was voting on a decision to repeal the Affordable Care Act. According to McBride, the Human Rights Campaign managed to mobilize 60,000 supporters to call the White House and Congress to defend transgender troops and access to health care. For McBride, the ability to leverage supporters behind dual issues is key to rallying the opposition needed to resist harmful political policies.
“It’s a symbol of the fact that we can walk and chew gum at the same time. The president thinks that he’s going to divide and conquer, that he’s going to drive the marginalized of this country into our respective silos, but we can protest and march at the same time and we can call on two different issues and we need to continue to do that,” says McBride.
McBride adds that even if someone is unwilling or feels unsafe speaking out about their own personal experience, that does not absolve a person from speaking out as an ally for others who may be marginalized. Citizens must continue to speak out on immigrants’ rights. Those who are economically secure must speak out for workers and labor rights. And individuals from all groups must continue to introduce these difficult conversations and work to unite around a common call for equality.
“We need to continue to do that when this president undermines equality in any fashion, when he undermines opportunity in any way,” says McBride. “That means when he attacks LGBTQ equality, we speak out. When he attacks immigrants, we speak out. When he tries to rip health care away from millions of Americans, we speak out and we recognize the old saying by Audre Lorde that there is no such thing as a single-issue cause because no one lives single-issue lives.”