With conviction, vulnerability and eloquence, Sarah McBride spoke on Tuesday in the Queally Center about transgender life in the U.S., and how her relationship with her late husband showed her just how much time was of the essence for change regarding LGBTQ+ issues.

“Every single time we ask transgender people, or LGBTQ people at large, ... to sit back and allow for a slow conversation to take place before we treat them with dignity and grant them opportunity, we are asking people to watch their one life pass by without the respect and fairness that every person deserves,” McBride said. “And that's too much to ask of anyone.”

McBride was the first of four guest speakers to visit UR as part of this school year’s Sharp Viewpoint Speakers Series. She spoke of the ongoing adversity faced by the LGBTQ+ community and emphasized the need and possibility for people to affect change about it.

The Delaware native is an advocate for LGBTQ+ rights, serves on the board of directors of Equality Delaware and is the national press secretary for the Human Rights Campaign, the largest LGBTQ+ advocacy organization in the U.S. She is also the author of her 2018 memoir, “Tomorrow Will Be Different: Love, Loss and the Fight for Trans Equality.”

In 2016, McBride spoke at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, becoming the first openly transgender person to address a major party political convention.

After an introduction from Lee Dyer, associate director for LGBTQ campus life at UR, McBride took the stage and shared her story. She spoke first about her own experience with being transgender and in the closet, which she compared to a constant feeling of homesickness, “an unwavering ache in the pit of [her] stomach that would only go away when [she] could be seen and affirmed as [herself]."

In 2012, when McBride came out as transgender during her time as student body president of American University, she was met with overwhelming love and celebration, she said. 

Support from loved ones and one's community are crucial in the well-being of transgender people, McBride said. According to a 2011 study that she cited, 41% of transgender people reported having attempted suicide, but that number decreased as the people were embraced by family and community.

But McBride recognized that she had privileges had by few, not a right had by all.

“At the end of the day, it shouldn't be a privilege to be able to keep your job after you come out,” she said. “It shouldn't be a privilege to be able to stay in school or find a home after you come out. And it certainly shouldn't be a privilege to be safe from violence.”

At least 18 transgender people, the majority of whom were black transgender women, have been fatally shot or killed by other violent means in 2019, according to the HRC.

And so, McBride shared her story to her state legislature of Delaware, showing legislators the humanity behind LGBTQ+ issues. And she successfully led the push to add gender identity and expression to Delaware’s nondiscrimination laws. Now, she is also running for office in the Delaware state senate.

McBride also drew attention to current efforts to dismantle LGBTQ+ protections, such as policies from the Trump administration, pending cases in the Supreme Court and bills at the state level.

After her speech, McBride was joined by University President Ronald A. Crutcher, who asked her questions submitted by students prior to the event. 

To students trying to define who they are, there was “no wrong way to be you,” no identical journey that had to be taken, McBride said in response to one question.

Every person has an insecurity, and in many cases, LGBTQ+ people have accepted that and “[walked] forward from a place of pride,” exhibiting an agency and power that hateful bullies could not exercise in their own lives, McBride said. 

“What I try to impress upon every person who's going about this journey to self-discovery, whether you're trans or not, is that you are powerful,” McBride said. “You are powerful just by being, and you carry that with you from the safest of spaces to the scariest of places.”

Dyer commended McBride for showing the importance of being active against injustice. He hoped students would take with them her idea of being one’s authentic self and how nobody else but oneself got to quantify how they were living their identity, Dyer said.

As for what UR can do, McBride suggested that implementing inclusive policies was a good start but that a sense of belonging hinged more on day-to-day interactions, such as not tokenizing transgender students in classrooms, not forcing them to explain their existences and speaking out against jokes ridiculing LGBTQ+ people “that [lay] the foundation and climate where discrimination and violence can occur."

McBride goes about the world with compassion. It is this compassion – and trying to see and understand each other’s pain and insecurities – that will help improve national discourse, McBride said.

“I think what happens is, the Left says, 'My pain's real, your pain's not real,' and the Right says, 'My pain's real, your pain's not real,' and it only pushes people further into their corners,” McBride said in an interview with The Collegian. “It only makes people angrier because they have to defend their pain.”

Dana Kuchem, UR director of Scholars and Fellowships, came away from the event with this message.

“I really liked what she said towards the end though, about validating other people's pain,” Kuchem said. “It doesn't have to be my pain or your pain. It can be both of us seeing each other and being able to move forward from there.” 

One of McBride’s lines that stuck with Counseling and Psychological Services staff psychologist Milo Wilson was, “If your ideology conflicts with my humanity, then it's your ideology that needs to change, not my humanity,” Wilson said.

First-year Claire Silverman said that McBride and the event were important in highlighting transgender issues and that she had wished that more people had attended.

“To get to hear her speak as someone who's been so successful in their life and who comprehensively works towards trans rights, and get a good understanding of what are the issues right now, what is the legislation right now that is being advocated for, was really good,” Silverman said.

McBride said she wanted to make apparent that change was always possible — she has seen it from the progress that has been so far, she said. She urged people to not stop working toward change now.

“I know, that if we continue to have these conversations, generations from now, a young LGBTQ kid will grow up and learn about this moment and this time in their history books and never have to know what this progress felt like to people like me,” McBride said, “because they will never know anything different.”

Contact managing editor Arrman Kyaw at arrman.kyaw@richmond.edu.