Monika: Today it is my pleasure to interview Sarah McBride, a young trans-activist from Delaware, USA. Sarah served as Student Body President at American University from 2011-2012 during which time she came out. Since then, Sarah has worked at the White House, the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, and serves on the board of Equality Delaware. I would like to discuss with her the role of transgender women in the US politics. Hello Sarah!
Sarah: Hi Monika! It is great to talk to you!
Monika: Why such a young lady as yourself is interested in politics?
Sarah: I’ve been interested in politics since a young age. As an observer, I think politics, government, and history are fascinating. It describes and shows us who we are, at our core, as a people and tells us the story of where we’ve been and where we are going.
I’m an active participant in politics because I genuinely believe that there is no more effective way to change and improve your world than through civic engagement. As they say, “never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
Monika: You have already achieved a great success being instrumental in passage of Delaware transgender rights bill …
The help of national partners like the Human Rights Campaign, National Center for Transgender Equality, and the Gay and Lesbian Task Force also enhanced our efforts. That’s the combination that has helped similar bills pass in 16 other states and the District of Columbia.
Monika: While campaigning for the Delaware transgender rights bill, you got a lot of support from your mother.
Sarah: I got a lot of support and help from both my parents. They were incredible. They came down to Dover to meet with legislators and to testify for the bill in both chambers. It was really helpful to have parents talking to legislators, many of who are parents themselves, from that perspective.
I think it helped legislators relate to the issue. It helped show the reality of transgender people: that we are part of communities just like everyone else, with family, friends, hopes, dreams, and needs. It is harder for legislators to ignore you when you demonstrate the personal side of an issue.
Monika: The American politics is based on the interaction with different interest groups that wish to pursue their specific goals. How successful in general is the transgender community in this respect?
Sarah: I think this is a really exciting time to be active in transgender equality. The last decade has seen the solidification of an effective mainstream movement for transgender equality. In that time, you’ve seen organizations like the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force doing amazing work for transgender people from Washington and state transgender and LGBT equality organizations matching those efforts in the individual cities and states.
There is no doubt that the transgender community isn’t in the same place as the push for gay rights, but we aren’t too far behind. It is my hope and belief that within the next decade we will be where the gay rights movement is now. It’s heartening to see organizations like the Human Rights Campaign, which was indispensable to our bill in Delaware, taking on a more active role in transgender equality.
|Speaking at the Gender Identity Nondiscrimination Act|
bill signing with Governor Markell on the left.
Sarah: A huge difference. Barack Obama went around the country speaking against discrimination based on “who you are or who you love.” That statement was a direct reference to the entire LGBT community and is helping to change attitudes.
Mitt Romney, on the other hand, was openly hostile to LGBT Americans. The national Republican Party has a long way to go before it should even be a remote possibility for LGBT people to support.
Monika: How do you perceive the attitude of the administration of President Obama towards transgender Americans?
Sarah: Barack Obama has done more for LGBT Americans than any U.S. President. The public is well-aware of his efforts for gay and lesbian Americans on issues like Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and marriage equality, but he has achieved some important policy goals for the transgender community.
Under his administration, the State Department and Social Security Administration have updated requirements for documentation changes for transgender people, they have protected the rights and safety of transgender defendants and inmates, issued an executive order adding gender identity to the federal government’s non-discrimination policies, and passed the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) which expanded access and protections for transgender patients.
These accomplishments, coupled with a host of other advocacy achievements, do not receive as much attention in the media as DADT and marriage, but make a real difference in the lives of transgender Americans.
There is certainly more to be done. I’m not the only one who would like to see the President issue an executive order prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity with any company that the federal government has a contract with.
|Briefing Governor Markell as the bill made|
its way through the General Assembly.
Sarah: Where do I start? I think the biggest issue that needs to be addressed is non-discrimination protections. There are currently no national laws that protect transgender people from workplace discrimination.
In 33 states, it is perfectly legal to fire, deny someone housing, or throw a person out of restaurant simply for being transgender.
We need basic protections from discrimination in all 50 states and from the federal government. Access to quality and affordable health care, including transition related care, is another big issue that needs to be addressed.
The transgender advocacy agenda, however, should not stop with issues that specifically include “transgender” or “gender identity” in the description. We need to include the rights and well-being of women, people of color, persons with disabilities, people in poverty, and every single marginalized group. If we don’t tackle the rights of everyone in our time, then we will only solve the problems of the most privileged in our community.
Sarah: I’m lucky to live in Delaware, where we have some incredibly enlightened and inclusive LGBT organizations. Equality Delaware, under the leadership of Mark Purpura and Lisa Goodman, is a model advocacy group for the entire LGBT community. Over the last six months, they have successfully passed both marriage equality and gender identity protection.
It’s a truly historic period of success. Mainstream LGBT organizations can always do a better job of diversifying and addressing the issues of LGBT people of color, transgender people, bisexual people, and lower-income people, but Equality Delaware is conscious of that and constantly seeks to do and be better.
|Speaking at the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund|
annual fundraiser. The Victory Funds seeks to elect
openly LGBT people to public office in America.
Sarah: That is a good question. I think America is at a turning point in how we view and treat transgender women. We still face a good deal of caricatures, stereotypes, and mockery from the media to day-to-day life, but we do see more positive examples in the media, less tokenism, and, at long last, real and complex portrayals transgender women in art and pop-culture.
During our push for transgender rights in Delaware, we were certainly confronted with a lot of negative and unfounded beliefs that transgender women face. The opponents had no problem with transgender men in the men’s restrooms, but treated transgender women in women’s restrooms as potential predators, abusers, and liars. Luckily in Delaware, enough legislators saw through those offensive arguments.
President Obama has appointed openly transgender women to positions in the State Department and the Defense Department. The future of transgender women, and transgender people in general, from politics to business to art, is bright.
|With her parents together with the first|
openly LGBT U.S. Senator.
I never had to worry about the support and love of my family and all of my friends have been affirming. If this process has shown me anything, it’s that those blessings should be rights for all and not based on luck or privilege.
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Sarah: Like I said, I was incredibly lucky to have a relatively smooth transition. I think the hardest thing was my concern that I would be disappointing people, including my family, by revealing my truth. I found out, however, that as hard as it was at first, my family and friends are as proud of me and love me just as much as before.
Monika: What would you recommend to young trans women wishing to be so successful in politics as yourself?