Sarah McBride easily won her state Senate race in Delaware this week. The election was the culmination of a long and hard-fought battle, and with the win, McBride, a Democrat, became the first openly transgender person ever elected to a US state Senate.
“I didn’t run to make history or to make headlines,” McBride told People magazine. “I ran to make a difference.”
Still, the news garnered international attention. McBride, a fierce LGBTQ advocate who interned at the White House during the Obama years, first became a household name in 2016 — she was the first openly transgender person to speak at the Democratic National Convention. Now, four years later, she’s the highest-ranking transgender elected official in America.
In a postwin speech on Tuesday night in Delaware, she had a message for queer youth.
“It is my fervent hope that tonight, a young person here in Delaware or in North Carolina or in Texas or anywhere in this country, that they’re able to go to sleep this night with a powerful but simple message: That our democracy is big enough for them, too,” she said. “That their voices matter. And that change is always possible.”
Listening to those remarks from New Zealand was Labour Member of Parliament Louisa Wall, a trailblazing LGBTQ advocate who led her country’s campaign to legalize same-sex marriage in 2013.
“I am so incredibly proud of Sarah McBride in Delaware. I’m beaming for her. It’s a wonderful achievement.”
“I am so incredibly proud of Sarah McBride in Delaware,” Wall said. “I’m beaming for her. It’s a wonderful achievement.”
McBride’s historic win didn't happen in isolation. In the US alone, the number of out LGBTQ elected officials has doubled in the past four years. In this week’s US general election, queer candidates from coast to coast added to those gains. About a dozen LGBTQ candidates were elected at varying levels of US government. Among them are Mauree Turner of Oklahoma’s 88th Congressional District, who became the first nonbinary state lawmaker in US history; Michele Rayner-Goolsby, who is the first Black queer woman to win a seat in the Florida Legislature; plus Mondaire Jones and Ritchie Torres, who have become the first gay, Black members of Congress.
Wall says these are significant victories.
“And it’s not a domain anymore just for white men,” she said. “And I’ll just cut to the chase because that’s historically been who gets to govern us around the world.”
Last month, Wall herself was part of history when openly LGBTQ-identifying candidates won four seats in New Zealand's Parliament. They now comprise 10% of all members — a world record.
“New Zealand is the most rainbow, gayest, queerest parliament in the world,” she said. “So, I’m really proud to be a Kiwi.”
New Zealand took the title from the UK, which boasts 7% LGBTQ representation in Parliament. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern also brought on Grant Robertson as deputy prime minister, making him the first openly gay man to ever serve in the role.
Wall says these gains in New Zealand are a step in the right direction for everyone.
“The more of us there are around the world, the greater our voice will be to ensure that, as a first principle, we have global homosexual law reform,” she said. "We're fighting for intersex rights, for trans rights, to end conversion therapy. Social and health services for affirmation surgery. Those challenges are about being full citizens."
Ruben Gonzales, the vice president of the LGBTQ Victory Institute, is fighting for similar reforms by helping get LGBTQ on ballots around the world. The organization helps queer and transgender leaders get elected around the world. Gonzales says he’s seen this international snowball effect taking place firsthand.
“We’ve been able to take lessons from our US candidates who have been successful and apply those to teach how to run for office more effectively as an out trans person or an out gender nonbinary person in places such as Latin America, the Caribbean, South Africa, and any of the other places that we’re working,” he said. “And we have seen success there as well.”
For example, last year the city of Bogotá elected Claudia López as mayor. She’s the first woman and the first openly gay person to lead the city. Belgium’s queer community also saw a watershed moment last month with the election of Petra de Sutter, a transgender woman, as their deputy prime minister.
De Sutter is now the highest-ranking transgender leader in the world. Notably, though, her gender identity was hardly mentioned in Europe’s postelection headlines.
De Sutter tweeted: “I am proud that in Belgium and in most of Europe, your gender identity does not define you as a person and is a non-issue. I hope that my appointment as Minister and deputy PM can trigger the debate in countries where this is not yet the case.”
Gonzales agrees and says the realities of running for office as a queer candidate are very different in different countries. He added that the attacks over the past year on trans candidates were more frequent and “uglier” than ever before. But no matter where these politicians are based, there is a shared experience among them as candidates.
“This common thread of courage. You know, it takes an incredible amount of courage to be a transgender person, to be out, and be running for office,” Gonzales said. “Especially in a place where the government and police may not protect your physical safety while you’re running for office.”
For that matter, Gonzales says connecting queer politicians around the world is a vital step toward getting more LGBTQ people on the ballot. As McBride in Delaware says, their dreams and identities are not mutually exclusive.