A Face for Transgender Rights


with Sarah McBride of the Human Rights Campaign


May 31, 2018

A 2017 Pew Research Center study reports that Americans are becoming more accepting in their views of LGBTQ people, with 63 percent of respondents saying that homosexuality should be accepted by society. However, when it comes to transgender people, the public is split over whether acceptance has gone far enough, too far, or if the current level of acceptance is just right. As the movement for LGBTQ equality continues, what is the state of discrimination on the basis of gender identity and expression?

Sarah McBride, National Press Secretary for the Human Rights Campaign, published her coming-out letter in the student newspaper at American University, launching her career as a transgender advocate and putting a face on the cause for transgender rights.

Hosted by: Paul Lisnek Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Lisnek: Sarah McBride made history in 2016 when she became the first transgender person to speak at a national political convention.

McBride: My name is Sarah McBride, and I am a proud transgender American. [ Cheers and applause ]

Lisnek: Four years earlier, the coming out letter she published in her student newspaper at American University went viral, and Sarah´s career as a transgender advocate was born. Hi, welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I´m Paul Lisnek. Joining me to share her personal story and to put a face to the movement for transgender rights is Sarah McBride. She is the National Press Security for the Human Rights Campaign and the author of the book "Tomorrow Will Be Different: Love, Loss and the Fight For Trans Equality." Sarah, I´ve read the book. You´re wonderful. Thank you for being here.

McBride: Thank you so much for having me.

Lisnek: I want to start with your personal story if I can because, you know, part of, I think, acceptance of the transgender community is to understand the story that goes along with the transition that people have made in that world.

McBride: I think one of the challenges we have in the fight for trans equality is that people who aren´t transgender have a difficult time understanding what it feels like to have a gender identity that differs from your sex assigned at birth, and for me, the best way I can describe it is a constant feeling of home sickness, and for the first 21 years of my life, I bared with that pain. I told myself that maybe with age, it would dissipate, that if I could pursue my dreams, that maybe those would compensate for my incompleteness, but by my junior year of college while I was serving as Student Body President at American University, the pain had become too much, so I eventually came out to my parents on Christmas Day of 2011, halfway through my term as Student Body President, and then eventually, on the last day of my term as president of the student body, I came out to the A.U. community and to the broader world as Sarah McBride in an op-ed in the student newspaper.

Lisnek: One of the things that´s positive, I just have to say, American University is a great place to be your true self.

McBride: Well, when I came out, I was nervous about the reaction from the campus community. This was 2011, before that transgender tipping point that Time magazine called 2013, and so I wasn´t quite sure how people would respond, but when I did come out and did announce my authentic self to the campus, it was a universally positive experience. And for me, reflecting on that coming-out journey, I recognize how privileged I was, how lucky I was to have the support of my family, to have the support of my campus community, to have the support of my home state of Delaware, and that´s not the reality for far too many transgender people, so I got involved in politics and advocacy and began working with a number of organizations and now find myself at the Human Rights Campaign, the nation´s largest LGBTQ civil-rights organization trying to fight to make sure that the privileges that I have are not a privilege but a right guaranteed to everyone.

Lisnek: The role and influence of LGBTQ voters, allies, really important in competitive races where things make a -- You have to see it from your perspective.

McBride: Well, what we have seen over the last several years is that anti-equality politicians, whether it´s Donald Trump in the White House or Pat McCrory in North Carolina passing that anti-trans bill, HB2, we have seen a number of attacks on the transgender community, but we´ve also seen that every single time anti-equality politicians come for us, we end up having a conversation with this country that opens hearts, changes minds, and in the end, sews the seeds of the destruction of the politics of hate that these politicians seek to implement, and so we´re seeing a number of attacks coming our way, but I think at the end of the day, we´re actually growing stronger from those attacks, and I think this coming November in the upcoming election, we´re going to see more pro-equality candidates get elected up and down the ballot.

Lisnek: This, I think, is the first year ever where there haven´t been any anti-LGBTQ bills passed by a state legislature. Positive movement?

McBride: Well, so, unfortunately, recently, there were two pieces of legislation that passed in states that would grant a license to discriminate to individuals and child-welfare agencies to discriminate against LGBTQ people, but up until that point, this was a year where no anti-LGBTQ bills had introduced, and I do think it´s a reflection of the fact that we have seen that when anti-equality politicians come for us, we end up coming for them on election day, and we saw that when Pat McCrory lost in 2016, and I think we´ll continue to see that. We will continue to come for these politicians. We are organizing and mobilizing, and we´re having that conversation that is opening hearts and, in the end, moving equality forward.

Lisnek: Sarah, you made history in July of 2016 when you took the stage of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. Talk to me about the reaction. All positives, some detractors -- What did you experience?

McBride: Well, of course, as with any development, there´s always going to be a mix of reactions online and in the comments sections, but overall, the response was incredibly positive. Our country´s journey is a journey toward a more perfect union where our understanding of "We the people" continues to expand, and that night at the Democratic National Convention was a very small but a small step forward toward a more diverse understanding of our country and our understanding of "We the people," and I think for a lot of transgender people, myself included, growing up, it seemed like we were at best ignored and at worst, mocked and ridiculed and discriminated against, and to see an arena full of people standing up and applauding our dignity, our lives, and our cause, I think, was affirming and empowering for so many people. And even though that election didn´t turn out the way most of us in the trans community and LGBTQ community hoped, we still carry with us that alliance of allies that we´ve developed over the last decade and a half.

Lisnek: I just want to ask. You know, the ability for gay and lesbian people to come out has changed over the years. It seems there is a lot of focus now on the transgender community. Give me a view to the future. What are things like 5 or 10 years from now for the transgender community? Is it sort of parallel to other communities that it´s just kind of okay to be who you are?

McBride: Well, I think we´ve definitely seen historic progress, particularly on social equality for transgender people over the last 10 years. The percentage of Americans who say they know someone who´s transgender has grown from single digits to 30% to 40% today, which is a pretty significant increase, and we know that when people in the public know someone who´s transgender, their understanding of these issues changes, and I think we´re going to see that number continue to grow as more and more transgender people can come out, but I think for me the most incredible thing right now is that across this country, I get to meet transgender kids who are doing what once seemed impossible to me. They are both living their truth and dreaming big dreams all at the same time, and that is a reflection of our progress and throughout this movement for LGBTQ equality, that is what we´ve done. We´ve transformed impossibility into possibility into reality, and if we´ve done it before, then we can do it again.

Lisnek: Sarah, it seems as though life experiences equal more opens minds. We have to give it time. Appreciate your being with me. Sarah McBride with the Human Rights Campaign has been joining, and I thank you for joining me as well. For more great conversations with leaders in our community, across the nation, all you got to do is go to comcastnewsmakers.com. I´m Paul Lisnek.

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