Transgender AU senior turns personal experience into political action

Kevin Sutherland/Family Photo - Sarah McBride poses in front of the White House in this undated family photo. Sarah established gender neutral housing on campus for every academic year, created an LGBTQ Studies Minor, increased accessibility of campus facilities for students with disabilities, and re-started a university scholarship fund to reward service to the AU and DC community.

At 22, Sarah McBride’s resume shows a passion for public service. Former president of American University’s student government. Intern with the White House Office of Public Engagement. Aide to Delaware Gov. Jack Markell (D).

Behind her narrative of aspiring politician aiming to fix the world, her resume doesn’t reflect the personal struggle she has faced her entire life. A year ago, McBride revealed that she had been living with a deep secret for 21 years. At the time, her name was Tim.

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In April 2012, on the last day of serving as the latest of AU’s many white, heterosexual male student body presidents, McBride revealed her inner struggle — she’s transgender.

“Gender identity shouldn’t matter and doesn’t matter in my capacity as an employee, as a leader, as a person,” McBride said. “You can be true to yourself and still do what you want to do with your life . . . [T]hey don’t have to be mutually exclusive.”

McBride channels her experiences to effect change at American. As president, she successfully lobbied for gender-neutral housing on campus and the creation of a Sexuality and Queer Studies minor. Her current efforts as a Class of 2013 senator include pushing for coverage of transgender transition care, such as medicine and surgery, in AU’s student health insurance policy.

Though she said universities nationwide have become more effective at dealing with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues, McBride challenged college campuses to constantly question how inclusive and accessible they are.

“Universities should be havens, examples of where we want our society to go,” McBride said. “There is a need for universities to make sure that they’re not just addressing LGB issues, but addressing every issue in that spectrum.”

But progress cannot be limited to “stereotypical” LGBT concerns like sexual discrimination and harassment, she said.

“Unless we also address issues of racial inclusion and financial accessibility and issues that face students with disabilities, unless we’re talking about all of these issues, we’re really not truly addressing all LGBT issues because we’re not addressing all student issues,” McBride said.

McBride has since brought her advocacy to the state and national levels, lobbying on behalf of Equality Delaware and vetting political contenders with the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, a political action committee that endorses and raises money for openly LGBT candidates.

“The fact that I’ve had a number of really wonderful professional opportunities, that shouldn’t be a privilege,” McBride said. “For far too many people, they are fired or not hired or not promoted because of who they are and not the quality of their work.”

Though McBride said she wants to return to her native Delaware after graduation, she has grown out of the “politician” label — a key difference between Tim and Sarah.

“I was using those goals as [an identity] crutch,” McBride said. “Realizing that going into politics is a noble and potentially community-changing profession, it’s a means to an end, it’s not an end in and of itself. . . . Right now, I am very much a student. I’m trying to figure things out.”

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