Sarah McBride's tireless work earned her a spot on a national stage to share an important message.
Just four short years ago, American University's then-student government president Sarah McBride came out as transgender in an editorial for the school's newspaper.
"With every birthday candle extinguished, with every penny thrown, my wish was always the same," she wrote. "I am now blessed with the opportunity to live my dream and fulfill a truth I have known since childhood. My gratitude is great to my family, friends and this university for accepting me as the person who they now know me to be, and for letting me show them the possibilities of a life well lived."
From that day forward, she committed herself to making the world a better, fairer place for LGBTQ people.
McBride was set on pursuing a career pushing to create a more just society through public policy — if she still could. She was scared.
"When I came out, I think like most folks, I was really scared," she told me earlier this week by phone. "I was worried that my professional career would be over and that my hopes and my dreams wouldn't be able to coexist with who I am."
Before coming out, she had worked for Delaware Governor Jack Markell and former state Attorney General Beau Biden. Still, she worried that being trans would stand in the way of a successful career. All she could do was work hard and hope for the best.
After college — and after coming out — McBride got a job at the Center for American Progress and became the first openly trans woman to intern at the White House. She's currently the National Press Secretary for the Human Rights Campaign, the country's largest LGBTQ rights organization.
Pretty impressive resume, right? And she's just getting started.
On Thursday, July 28, 2016, Sarah again made history, becoming the first transgender person to speak at a major political party's nominating convention.
Working together with the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton's team, the Congressional LGBT caucus set aside a speaking spot for someone to advocate on behalf of trans rights. A powerful, media-savvy public speaker, McBride was a clear choice.
During her speech, Sarah spoke about her own background and also the impact her husband Andy had on her activism.
"For me, this struggle for equality became all the more urgent when I learned that my future husband, Andrew, was battling cancer," she told the crowd. "I met Andy, who was a transgender man, fighting for equality, and we fell in love. And even in the face of his terminal illness, this 28-year-old, he never wavered in his commitment to our cause and his belief that this country can change. We married in 2014, and just four days after our wedding, he passed away."
"Knowing Andy left me profoundly changed," she continued. "More than anything, his passing taught me that every day matters when it comes to building a world where every person can live their life to the fullest."
McBride's message couldn't come at a better time. With trans rights coming to the forefront of politics this election cycle, voices like hers are more important than ever.
While LGBTQ rights have taken leaps forward over the past few years, gaining rights for transgender people has been a slower process.
Certain states, like North Carolina, have instituted outright anti-trans laws that have harmed and dehumanized trans people. Others have joined in lawsuits against the federal government's trans-inclusive interpretation of Title IX. All the while, the rate of violence against trans people — especially trans women of color — remains much too high, while this community is simultaneously at an economic disadvantage.
In other words, it's rough out there, and this election is going to be really important, especially for the trans community.
While the Republican party has committed to what's been called the most anti-LGBTQ platform in the party's history, the Democratic party has pledged to stand firm on rights for this group. Many issues — such as that North Carolina law — are likely to be determined in the federal and Supreme courts. Others — such as employment, housing, and public accommodations protections — exist in the form of legislation that will need to make it through Congress.
As a country, we've reached a crossroads. Do we want to be a nation that simply accepts discrimination as a reality? Or do we want to stand for the rights of all citizens, regardless of their race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, disability, or country of origin?
On July 28, 2016, Sarah McBride made history. Hopefully soon it will no longer be considered notable for a trans person to address crowds at conventions like this.
By focusing on inclusion and representation, we can be assured that all Americans, no matter how small their group, have a voice in our society.