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Transgender Trailblazer Alumna Speaks at Democratic National Convention

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A photo of American University alumna Sarah McBride smiling in front of an LGBT rainbow flag.
AU alumna Sarah McBride is the first openly transgender person to speak at a national political convention.

Editor's note: When she takes the stage at the Democratic National Convention (DNC) between 4 and 6 p.m. on Thursday, July 28, American University alumna Sarah McBride (SPA/BA ’13), will be the first openly transgender person to speak at a major political party’s convention. She also likely will be the first former AU Student Government president to do so.

McBride, the Human Rights Campaign national press secretary, is one of at least two AU alumni speaking at the DNC this week. Tuesday night during the 7 to 10 p.m. slot, Jelani Freeman (CAS/MA, '07) delivered remarks. He spoke just before interim DNC chair and AU's 2016 Wonk of the Year Donna Brazile.

Below, McBride explains to American Magazine why she believes living an authentic life is more an act of survival than an act of courage. McBride’s “This I Know” was originally published in the magazine’s November 2015 issue. At publication time, McBride was the campaign and communications manager for the LGBT team with the Center for American Progress.

"This I Know"

American Magazine (November 2015)

We are often advised to “live an authentic life.” Sarah McBride knows what those words really mean—and the deep personal price we pay for not doing so. In 2012, McBride was 21 years old, president of the AU student body, and poised to reveal her true self to the campus community. In the last days of her presidency, McBride came out as transgender in a Facebook post and Eagle op-ed. The AU community’s reaction was overwhelmingly positive. Hundreds of young transgender individuals wrote to thank McBride for her courage.

As a senior, she worked tirelessly for the successful passage of the Gender Identity Nondiscrimination Act in Delaware, her home state. Today, McBride continues the work she began at AU, advocating for LGBT individuals to enjoy the same rights and privileges afforded to the rest of society.

Q. Why is authenticity in the way we live our lives so important for individuals and for society?

A. Living authentically isn’t an act of courage as much as an act of survival. For some, the fear of coming out is so great, they can continue to live an inauthentic life. But at a certain point, the pain becomes too much to bear. For me, having one more day pass by where I wasn’t living my true self seemed like such a wasted opportunity, such a wasted life.

The Internet has been great for the LGBT community. I know many older transgender people who say, “I didn’t know there was a single person like me until I was 40.” I can’t imagine growing up in my teenage years without access to that information. Even though I wasn’t 100 percent ready to accept who I was, I knew. I would look in my mirror and say, “I’m transgender” or “I’m a girl,” and feel immense shame. When I came out and there was such a positive response from the AU community, that was the first moment I felt truly proud of who I am. It gave me a lot of strength and a lot of courage to move forward.

It’s understandable for parents of transgender kids to have a sense of loss. This person is going to look different and sound different. But it’s the same person, the same child.

My father said to me that he was not losing a son, but gaining a daughter. That was one of the most profound moments in my transition. It was a major relief when it was clear that both my parents saw me as who I am. To have your child living an authentic life, being his or her true self, that’s something to be celebrated.

We can celebrate the speed at which LGBT equality has progressed, but we also have to acknowledge that it wasn’t fast enough, because too many people didn’t get to experience it. We can never be too impatient.

More content about McBride:

”Three women who could be the break-out political stars of the 2016 convention” (Washington Post, 2016)

“Transgender activist Sarah McBride talks advocacy” (Eagle, 2015)

“The Next Generation of Leaders: Sarah McBride’s Pride for AU”

McBride’s op-ed, “The Real Me” (Eagle, 2012)