Sarah McBride, national press secretary for the Human Rights Campaign, today announced she’s running for state Senate in Delaware, where she would be the state’s first out transgender legislator — and the nation’s first openly trans state senator. But that’s not the primary motivator in her campaign.
Rather, it’s having been a caregiver to her late husband, Andrew Cray, a trans man who died of cancer four days after their wedding in 2014. “I’m running because my experience with Andy underscored that health care is the biggest quality-of-life issue in our lives,” she tells The Advocate.
Her priorities if elected to the state Senate will be expanding access to health care, advocating for paid family and medical leave, and reforming the criminal justice system, she says. She is seeking the 2020 Democratic nomination to succeed Sen. Harris McDowell, a fellow Dem who has announced he will retire at the end of this term, after more than 40 years in office.
McBride, who lauded McDowell’s accomplishments, is the first candidate to announce a run in the district, Delaware State Senate District 1, which includes parts of Wilmington, Bellefont, and Claymont. Like the state, it is heavily Democratic. She was born and raised in the district. She came out as transgender in 2012, at the end of her term as student body president at American University in Washington, D.C.
McBride has been at HRC since June 2016, having previously worked for the Center for American Progress, interned at the White House under President Obama (making her the first out trans woman to serve at the White House in any capacity), and been a staffer for former Delaware Gov. Jack Markell and the late state Attorney General Beau Biden, son of former Vice President Joe Biden. (She declines comment about Joe Biden’s presidential bid, saying he’s focused on his race and she’s focused on hers.)
Her tenure at HRC has included such highlights as addressing the Democratic National Convention in 2016, when she became the first openly trans person to speak at a major party’s national convention. But the biggest highlight, she says, has been working with state-level activists across the nation.
“Most of the issues that impact people’s lives are handled at the state level,” she says, and that’s led her to seek state office. She intends to stay on at HRC part-time during her campaign, and she will give up that position if she is elected.
While placing health care, family and medical leave, and criminal justice reform as her priorities if she becomes a state senator, she adds that she won’t neglect LGBTQ issues. “The fight for equality is never over, that’s for sure,” she says. Delaware has made much progress in that fight; McBride notes that before she became an HRC staffer, she worked alongside the organization to help pass marriage equality and gender identity nondiscrimination protections in the state. Further work is needed on such issues as assuring a quality, safe education for all students and banning the gay and trans panic defenses, she says.
Also, despite its general liberalism, Delaware is one of only five states to have never elected an out LGBTQ person to its state legislature. One state senator, Karen Peterson, came out as gay while in office but did not seek reelection as an out candidate.
She doesn’t expect her gender identity to be an issue in the race. “I think voters don’t care about my gender,” she says. “We’ve seen across the country that when trans candidates run, they win.” She would be the nation’s first openly trans state senator; the out trans people currently serving as state representatives or delegates are Danica Roem in Virginia, Brianna Titone in Colorado, and Lisa Bunker and Gerri Cannon in New Hampshire.
But she emphasizes that more than her gender identity, the most formative experience of her life was being Cray’s caregiver. She dealt with their relationship in the memoir Tomorrow Will Be Different: Love, Loss, and the Fight for Trans Equality, published in 2018. His fight for health care, she says, showed that navigating the system is a challenge even for those with good insurance.
“I’ve been thinking about Andy throughout the day, as I do every day,” she says. “My hope is that Andy is watching down and he’s proud of me. I hope most days I do him justice.”