The first time Delaware state Sen. Sarah McBride asked someone to refer to her using she/her pronouns, she was a student at American University. It was in the McKinley Building where she first messaged a friend and asked them to use the name Sarah for her.
McBride, who graduated from the School of Public Affairs in 2013, came out as transgender in 2012. Before McBride was a senator or a graduate, she was president of AU Student Government, making the journey of coming out more uncertain.
In an event held by Students for Change, the Kennedy Political Union and AU Pride on March 31, McBride spoke about her coming out journey at AU, specifically in a position of leadership.
“I didn't have many other trans people to see, to talk with, just to be in spaces with, to see how the campus interacted with them and to know that I could have that space,” McBride said at the event. “And as Student Government president, I didn't know how the campus would respond to an out trans student, let alone an out transgender student body president.”
The discussion, held in honor of Transgender Day of Visibility and moderated by Sebastian Mahal, a sophomore in SPA and the College of Arts and Sciences, allowed McBride to talk not only about her personal experience, but how AU helped foster an environment where she felt comfortable being true to her identity.
“This campus saved my life, and my friends on this campus saved my life with the way they responded,” she said. “Rejection creates an excuse, while acceptance creates a standard.”
These laws, McBride said, are an attempt to “other” transgender people by using “fear mongering and scare tactics.” She compared this to a slingshot: you have to move back before you move forward at a fast pace.
Storytelling, she said, is imperative to making the slingshot move.
“I do fundamentally believe that it is much more difficult to hate someone whose story you know, and one of the reasons why the politics of fear is able to materialize is because there is still … a knowledge gap that the general public has around who transgender people are,” she said.
In the absence of storytelling of LGBTQ+ lives in the media and in the public, these fear mongering political tactics are able to take hold, McBride said.
In addition to storytelling, McBride expressed the need for federal protections and national LGBTQ+ nondiscrimination laws.
“People will lose their lives because of these bills,” she said.
Within the LGBTQ+ community, McBride said that support should not be considered a privilege. She said everyone deserves to have structures to provide them with emotional and physical support, ranging from accepting friend groups to accessible, gender-affirming healthcare.
At AU, she was able to find this support. Without it, she said, the outcome of her journey could have been totally different.
“I think it was that experience, receiving that support myself, that pushed me into a professional advocacy career,” she said. “I ultimately felt it shouldn't be a privilege to be able to be embraced by your campus, or embraced by your family, or be able to get a job, or stay in school.”
This article was edited by Zoe Bell, Jordan Young and Nina Heller. Copy editing done by Isabelle Kravis, Leta Lattin and Stella Guzik.