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Sarah McBride, a 30-year-old organizer in Delaware, made history on Tuesday night as the first openly transgender candidate to be elected a state senator in American history.
With her defeat of Republican Steve Washington, McBride will become one of the highest-ranking transgender leaders in the nation, stepping into office at a time of unprecedented challenges for transgender Americans.
“It’s been surreal,” McBride told The 19th about her win. “But in the best possible way. I’m really excited.”
McBride said she knew she was having a good election night when early voting results showed she had a considerable lead compared to her opponent.
Even when the race was projected as a win for her, she had to take a moment to process it.
“I think in many ways it hasn’t really sunk in,” she said. “I’ve spent almost all of my life thinking that something like this was so impossible. That it was almost incomprehensible. And I think in many ways, it’s going to take a little while for it to sink in, that this has actually happened.”
Annise Parker, president of LGBTQ Victory Fund, said McBride’s win is a “testament to the growing influence of transgender leaders” that gives hope to countless trans people.
“For Sarah to shatter a lavender ceiling in such a polarizing year is a powerful reminder that voters are increasingly rejecting the politics of bigotry in favor of candidates who stand for fairness and equality,” Parker said in a statement. “Her victory will inspire more trans people to follow in her footsteps and run for public office.”
It was just three years ago that Danica Roem, now a delegate in the Virginia General Assembly, became the first openly trans candidate to both be elected and seated to a state legislature (she bested anti-trans incumbent Bob Marshall and won reelection in 2019 despite transphobic attacks). Lisa Bunker and Gerri Cannon won seats in the New Hampshire House of Representatives in 2018, and Brianna Titone won a seat in the Colorado House of Representatives the same year. Bunker, Cannon and Titone are all seeking reelection this year.
On Tuesday night, Roem tweeted her support for McBride, elevating a tweet from 2019 that featured Roem encouraging McBride to run (McBride tweeted herself in 2017 about the significance of Roem’s race).
“She was ready. She did run. And she just won,” Roem tweeted Tuesday. “@SarahEMcBride, I am so, so, so, so proud of you, of who you are, of the campaign you ran and the values you stand for.”
McBride said that Roem was a powerful example of what was possible.
“She certainly inspired me to run and showed all of us in the community that we could have a seat at the table,” she said. “It’s not a coincidence that the number of openly trans legislators has grown dramatically in a short period of time since Danica’s first election.”
At least 16 openly transgender candidates for statehouse seats are on the November ballot, according to an estimate from Victory Fund. The organization believes more trans legislative candidates could win their elections once all ballots are counted.
On Tuesday night they projected Stephanie Byers in Kansas will become the state’s first openly trans lawmaker and the first Native American trans candidate elected to a statehouse (she is a member of the Chickasaw Nation).
Taylor Small of Vermont on Tuesday was also elected as the state’s first openly transgender lawmaker. Small said she felt “ecstatic” about making history.
“There are so many more folks who are going to be joining and making this progressive change,” she told The 19th.
Small said the lens that marginalized people bring into a statehouse will be important in crafting and improving policy that can have a disproportionate impact on them.
“I think that is the progress, the safety net that we need,” she said. “In case we do not see such optimistic results on a national level.”
Among other legislative races that could make history: Jessica Katzenmeyer in Wisconsin could be that state’s first openly trans lawmaker; and Madeline Eden could be the first openly trans lawmaker in the Texas statehouse.
A record-shattering 570 or more LGBTQ+ candidates are seeking office this November, according to Victory Fund.
McBride, who currently serves as the national press secretary for the Human Rights Campaign, has held supporting roles in politics for more than a decade. Starting in 2008, she worked under Delaware Gov. Jack Markell before going to work for then-Attorney General Beau Biden in 2010. She was the first out transgender woman to intern at the White House and, in 2016, she became the first transgender person to address the Democratic National Convention.
Through working on Beau Biden’s reelection campaign in 2010, McBride became friends with former Vice President Joe Biden. The two have remained in touch. The vice president wrote the forward for McBride’s 2018 memoir “Tomorrow Will Be Different: Love, Loss, and the Fight for Trans Equality,” which recounts supporting her late husband Andrew Cray as he battled terminal cancer.
McBride said she hopes her race will inspire others in the LGBTQ community to run for office, especially trans people.
“They can do this, too,” she said. “Every advancement we make, every victory we have, every new voice that’s included, creates a little bit of space for more people to claim their rightful seat at the table.”