1st trans woman to run for state Senate declares her candidacy

DOVER — Sarah McBride, an openly transgender woman and prominent LGBT activist, is running for the state Senate.

Ms. McBride, 28, announced her candidacy for the 1st Senatorial District Tuesday morning, although rumors about her intentions had been swirling for weeks. That speculation intensified when Sen. Harris McDowell, who has represented the Wilmington-area district since 1976, announced last week he would not run in 2020.

Like Sen. McDowell, Ms. McBride is a Democrat. Although other individuals are likely to jump in the race (the filing deadline isn’t for a year), Ms. McBride figures to be a formidable candidate thanks to her ties to other Democratic officials and organizations and the name recognition she has built up through her work on LBGT issues.

She would be the first openly transgender individual to hold elected office in Delaware. Just four openly transgender Americans have been elected and seated to state legislatures, with all of those coming in the past two years.

While much of the attention on the campaign may focus on Ms. McBride’s gender, Ms. McBride herself sought to downplay that aspect.

“At the end of the day I’m not running to be a transgender state senator, I’m running to be a senator who serves her community,” she said Monday evening in a conference call with reporters, noting she believes most voters won’t care about her gender identity.

She identified health care as one of her core issues, saying far too many people struggle to pay for vital procedures or medications, and pointed to her own experience as a caregiver for her late husband, Andrew Cray, who died of cancer in 2014.

Other areas of interest for Ms. McBride include criminal justice reform and gun control.

Asked what health care policies she would like to change, she declined to discuss them, saying there will be time to focus on specific proposals later.

The Delaware General Assembly has seen a shift to the left in recent years, with the election of progressive candidates, several of whom are Millennials like Ms. McBride. A successful campaign by her would be a major victory for left-leaning activists in their 20s and 30s, who are exerting more power in the Democratic Party.

While she would be one of the youngest individuals ever elected to the Delaware Senate, Ms. McBride doesn’t see her age as a negative.

“Life isn’t a measure of years. It’s a measure of experience, and over the last particularly seven years I’ve had more life than I ever wished for,” she said.

Born in Wilmington to a prominent lawyer and education advocate, Ms. McBride came out in 2012 while serving as student body president at American University, with the news making national headlines.

She’s been involved in Delaware politics for more than a decade, working on several Democratic campaigns, and in 2013, she successfully lobbied for passage of legislation barring discrimination based on gender identity in Delaware. Then Gov. Jack Markell credited her as a key reason the bill passed and awarded her the Order of the First State.

Ms. McBride spoke at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, becoming the first openly transgender individual to address a major political party gathering.

She currently works as a spokeswoman for the Human Rights Campaign.

The area she hopes to represent, the 1st Senatorial District, sits in the northeastern-most part of Delaware, covering Claymont, Bellefonte and part of Wilmington. It is a Democratic stronghold, with nearly 20,000 of the approximately 34,300 voters registered as Democrats.

Sen. McDowell has held the seat for 43 years, the most in Delaware history, and was reelected with about 56.3 percent of the vote in 2016. He revealed his plans not to run for another term around 1 a.m. July 1, shortly before the legislature broke for the year, saying he had planned to campaign again but wanted to spend more time with his wife.

Ms. McBride said she was unaware Sen. McDowell intended to retire prior to his announcement.

Although transgender rights have rapidly become more mainstream — according to a Gallup poll released last month, 71 percent of Americans support letting trans individuals serve in the military — they remain a deeply polarizing issue. Eighty-eight percent of Democrats and 78 percent of independents responded positively to the poll, while just 43 percent of Republicans said they favor allowing military service for transgender people.

Six of the nine senators who voted against Delaware’s 2013 anti-discrimination bill are still in office, as are two current senators who were state representatives at the time.

While Ms. McBride may encounter some hostility in the General Assembly, she said she is confident she can work with other lawmakers, pointing to her past collaborations with Democrats and Republicans on LGBT issues.

“I believe I can bring people together to create change,” she said.

Staff writer Matt Bittle can be reached at 741-8250 or mbittle@newszap.com. Follow @MatthewCBittle on Twitter.

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