Rebel Girls: Talking to Sarah McBride about Politics, Trans Rights, and Hillary Clinton

Header by Rory Midhani

Header by Rory Midhani

I was #blessed last week to give up sleep, sanity, and the final shreds of my moral fiber in exchange for being an eyewitness to the historic 2016 Democratic National Convention. In contrast to the circus that was the RNC, the DNC offered us a sense of solidarity and a sense of excitement for what was to come — four days of cameras panning to Bill Clinton crying happy tears for his wife, multiple badass women performing and speaking, multiple badass women crying under intense lighting about what was about to happen to the world, eight thousand people yelling a woman’s name, and a series of historic feminist “firsts.”

There was Cecile Richards, who said the word “abortion” for the first time ever on a convention stage. (It’s 2016. Sidebar.) There was the nation’s first Black president enthusiastically passing the baton to his successor — the party’s first woman nominee — and then embracing her with pride. There was the sight of a woman born before (white) women’s suffrage in 1920 helping tip the roll call scale into Hillary Clinton’s favor. There was Hillary Clinton, finally exhaling, finally proud of herself, finally officially fucking running for president I actually can’t.

And there was Sarah McBride — trailblazing trans advocate and, um, humblebrag, old friend of mine — taking the stage at the DNC to talk about her journey and the promise of a better future for trans people. She was the first trans person to ever speak at a major party’s national convention, and she did so flawlessly, as expected, and later cried in her parents’ arms.

I did run into Sarah at the convention, at the Planned Parenthood party Tuesday night. We looked cute. But I looped back with her after the whole hot amazing beautiful mess had come to a close to talk about using politics to change trans lives, why she’s so into Hillary Clinton, what it feels like to speak to a packed arena full of people and also actually eclipse me in fame points, and also whether or not she’s still gonna run for president like she promised me in 2012.


Carmen: You made history last week when you spoke at the DNC. Can you gush to me for a second about how that felt? What it felt like to be at the DNC and take that stage and tell your story?

Sarah McBride: It really was an honor to be able to stand on that stage and, hopefully, help educate the country a little bit more about transgender equality. More than anything else, I wanted to reinforce the simple fact that transgender people are people, who hurt when they are mocked, who hurt when they are discriminated against, and who want to be treated with dignity and fairness.

Standing on that stage and having an arena full of people standing up and applauding for transgender equality was about the most empowering and inspiring things I’ve heard witnessed. Immediately following the speech, I walked out on the floor of the convention and came across an older transgender delegate whom I have known for a year or so. We both embraced with big smiles on our face, but as we hugged, we both began to cry. I can’t speak to why she started crying, but as I hugged her, I thought about all she has seen, the years of fear, the years of fighting, and the fact that she is now attending a major party’s political convention that has so clearly affirmed the dignity of transgender people, a convention that gave a standing ovation to our equality and the presence of a transgender person on that stage.

I then walked over to where my parents were sitting and immediately began crying when I saw my parents and, in particular, my dad. They were so worried when I came out. They feared for my safety, that I wouldn’t be able to get a job, and that I would be rejected by the communities that I loved. Seeing them, I just thought that I hope they see that I’m going to be okay.

Also, please tell me what it’s like to be tweeted at by Joe Biden.

Pretty incredible. Everyone loves Joe Biden. How can’t you?

I had the chance to work with the Vice President’s son, Beau, who was such a supporter of LGBTQ rights. When I came out, Beau immediately called me to express his love and support. A year or so later, I attended a party at the Vice President’s residence and when the VP saw me, he came up, put his arm around me and said, “Hey kid, I wanted to let you know that Beau is so proud of you, Jill is so proud of you, I’m so proud of you and I want to know one thing, are you happy?” And when I said yes, he responded, “that makes me so happy.” And he gave me a big hug. The Bidens are as loving and warm in person as they seem in the media.

You’ve been an outspoken and fierce advocate for Hillary Clinton. As an LGBTQ advocate, what drew you to her in the primary? What about her makes you so passionate?

Beyond just admiring her as an accomplished person, I was really drawn to her approach to policy in the primary. I have a lot of respect for Bernie Sanders and I’m really glad he ran, but I think Secretary Clinton ran in a way that understood that the presidency isn’t a single-issue office. I appreciated that she acknowledged that while income inequality is a huge problem, that even if we solved it tomorrow, institutional and system racism would still exist, sexism would still exist, homophobia, transphobia, and ableism would still exist. That approach and understanding is incredibly important to me.

Oh, yeah, I’m also ready for a woman president and I’m not afraid to say it. I wouldn’t settle for anyone, obviously, but with Hillary Clinton, the most qualified candidate in history and one who has released comprehensive, progressive plans to move us forward, I’m not settling.

What policies are in the Democratic platform that are key for trans people, and what policies would you like to see come next? What specific policy changes would you like to see ushered in during a Hillary Clinton presidency? 

Hillary released the most detailed plan on LGBTQ equality of any candidate for president in history. For trans folks, she has included several key planks. She will push for the Equality Act, which will provide comprehensive nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people nationwide. She is committed to addressing violence against transgender people, particularly trans women of color, and has described that violence as an urgent problem. She has also committed to utilizing existing sex protections to protect both trans and gay people. That is a really important position that will provide life-saving protections for LGBTQ people right now, even without congressional action. Sex protections are the front line of defense against discriminatory, anti-trans legislation and the fact that Hillary Clinton supports those interpretations is vital.

There’s been a lot of conversation this election about “establishment” politics that paints traditional routes to change in a bad light during this election. How do you feel LGBTQ folks can leverage mainstream political power structures to advance their agenda?

To gain the change we so desperately need, we need to push for change in every way we can, including through traditional political means. Public policy isn’t a silver bullet by any means, but those changes and reforms can save lives and give people the security and safety to make it through the day, provide for themselves and their family, and, potentially, push for more change. We need to vote and we need to explain to people – both in the LGBTQ community and elsewhere – the stakes of this election. Donald Trump is a threat to the safety, wellbeing, and lives of marginalized and vulnerable communities across the country. He’s committed to appointing anti-LGBTQ judges, endorsed the right of states to pass hateful and discriminatory laws, and, in effectively his first governing decision, named a running mate whose entire national profile rests on being anti-LGBTQ. Additionally, LGBTQ people are also Muslims, women, people of color, immigrants, and people with disabilities and when he attacks any one of us, he is attacking all of us.

You’ve done work at a national level but also at a state level. How important are down-ballot races to LGBTQ folks this year, and what can LGBTQ folks and their allies do at different levels to improve the lives of queer and trans people? What kind of advocacy is better suited to state or local politics, and how can we win national battles at those levels?

State and local elections are vital in the advancement of LGBTQ equality and the effort to combat anti-LGBTQ attacks. Most of the action, good or bad, is happening at the local and state level. While I’m optimistic about our chances with Congress this cycle, we still have a long way to go before we have pro-equality majorities in both chambers. In the meantime, we need to elect city councilmembers and legislators who support our rights. We need to elect mayors and governors who will fight for us. Last year, we saw over 200 hateful, anti-LGBTQ bills at the state level. We are likely to see just as many next year. The fate of those bills will rest largely in the legislatures we elect.

While nationwide change is important, we cannot forget the local change is just as, if not more, important. The only way for legal equality to become true lived equality is for our schools, hospitals, workplaces, and government services are welcoming and safe places for LGBTQ people. Much of that progress rests on local and state governments.

Last but not least: When we served in the student government together that time, you and I formalized a casual agreement that when you were POTUS, I’d run the White House Council on Women and Girls. Just looking to re-confirm.

Haha, can we switch roles?

Girl, yes.


Rebel Girls is a column about women’s studies, the feminist movement, and the historical intersections of both of them. It’s kind of like taking a class, but better – because you don’t have to wear pants. To contact your professor privately, email carmen at autostraddle dot com. Ask questions about the lesson in the comments!

Carmen is the Managing Digital Editor at Ms. , host of Bitch Media's POPAGANDA podcast and co-founder and Contributing Editor at Argot magazine. She previously served as Straddleverse Director, Feminism Editor and Social Media Co-Director at Autostraddle. You can find her on Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr or in the drive-thru line at the nearest In-N-Out.

Carmen has written 927 articles for us.

13 Comments

  1. why does autostraddle kiss so much hillary ass now? i use to think she was pretty awesome too and was so excited for the possibility of first woman president a year ago…until i actually did my research on her.

    • There’s also the fact that Secretary Clinton appointed Gloria Steinem, a key lobbyist for the act of transmisogynistic genocide that was the delisting of transition medicine in 1981, based on Janice Raymond’s policy papers for what was the forerunner to DHSS.

      But we don’t want to talk about trans women’s bodily autonomy, and the way liberals and cisfeminists have consistently had disrespect for that half of the queer female community, never mind Planned Parenthood, which was name-dropped provided informed consent in 3 states at the start of the year, and 3 clinics in Indiana will make 4 states… these are not the actions of genuine allies, and I’m frankly offended to see Secretary Clinton, who appointed Barney “Bathroom Bill”, Barney “Consistent Gender Presentation”, Barney “People with penises in women’s showers” Frank to the platform committee. That’s the kind of ‘help’ we’re getting.

      You know why I think cisfeminists don’t want to talk about trans women? Because then they have to ask themselves why CAMABs are more homeless, more jailed, more abused, more raped, more murdered… I think then CAFABs have to come to terms with the exact nature of the cisheteropatriarchy… and they have to stop oppressing closeted women and calling it feminism. Crazy theory, I know, considering the only trans women who exist to the liberal media are post-op, blending harrrrd, and straight, considering we have an acronym of: [Mutually-exclusive orientation][Mutually-exclusive orientation][Mutually-exclusive orientation][Sex-CASAB relationship that’s usually associated with the earlier mutually exclusive orientations.]

    • There’s a lot to unpack here. I kind of agree with your first statement – the Hillary worship IS getting pretty old. I don’t care if she’s a woman. There’s not enough discussion of Hillary’s flaws – what you listed, her past remarks on immigration, the email scandal, etc. However, it’s also important to acknowledge that people CAN change. Indeed, isn’t that what we expect of our community? There’s a lot I don’t like about Clinton, but I’m very optimistic about her platform on reproductive rights, LGBT rights, and immigration. We need to discuss the positives AND negatives, especially in this polarized political climate that leaves little room for nuance.

    • I’m the opposite. I was pretty lukewarm on her until I actually did my research.

      Is Hillary perfect? No. There’s plenty of legitimate reasons to criticize her (which I make use of). I do believe Hillary is evolving on key issues and changing where she was in the past.

  2. The importance of Sarah’s address at the convention is so symbolic of the growing recognition of the validity of transgenderism as an acceptable reality for many us in America, and the world, both females and males. When I was a child, I knew nothing of transgenderism…..I only knew that I did not fit into the role of “male”, and that ” not fitting” affected my emotional and social relationships, as I searched for love with a girl. It was only much later, after I knew about transgenderism, and realized that I have always been a female that I was able to experience the wonderful happy feelings of being a girl in love with another girl.
    But now, girls and boys who are transgender can find happiness so much earlier, and live all their life as their true gender identity. I want to thank Autostraddle for giving us transfemales a community in which to share thoughts and feelings with other females. Thanks so much!!
    And Sarah was such a wonderful example of how “normal” , just different, that being transgender is. She made all of us feel hopeful for the future.

    • “I was able to experience the wonderful happy feelings of being a girl in love with another girl.”

      I know, right? Isn’t it amazing?

      I really loved seeing Sarah speak at the DNC. Hopefully she’s on the first of many trans people to take the stage :-)

      • I have talked to my family about being transgender and they really cannot imagine what I mean when I talk about “feeling like a girl”! And I have also talked to a few cis lesbians who also don’t know what that statement means either. At first I thought the cis lesbians were just being hateful to me, but later when my family expressed the same question, I realized that the people gay or straight that are not transgender have never even thought about what ” gender identity” is or what ” being female” or ” being male” feels like because they are happy with their “self”, and never had to justify their gender identity to the world, because they “fit” into the current social constructs of what is “acceptable”.

        You and I know how wonderfully different it feels being a girl in love with another girl . It allows us to feel and act like we always have wanted to, to talk and think like we feel, to not have to pretend to act and love and feel like someone that we aren’t.

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