Five days later, upon signing an “enhanced protections for LGBTQI+ individuals” executive order, Biden mentioned McBride again. “Sarah,” she said, “you are… wonderful to see you, boy.”
The mentions were odes to a person who, people in Biden’s orbit and others in the advocacy space say, directly shaped Biden’s personal and political evolution on transgender issues.
McBride’s close ties to the Biden family go back over 15 years. Last week, the country’s first transgender state senator announced she was running for the Delaware Open House seat, in a bid that could make her the first openly transgender member of US Congress.
As Republican-led states pass an increasing number of laws limiting access to medical care for minors and the country sees a rise in anti-LGBTQ hate and extremism, Biden has leaned on McBride, calling her to discuss of the current moment in American politics. Over time, he helped transform one of the most devout Catholic presidents in US history into an unlikely advocate for LGBTQ causes.
“We talked about how scared people across the country are and I shared with him how much it means to people when they see him speak and act to protect LGBTQ rights and LGBTQ people,” McBride said in an interview with POLITICO.
McBride’s relationship with the Biden family began in 2006. She was a high schooler when she worked for Beau Biden’s attorney general campaign, forming a close bond with Biden’s oldest son. McBride worked for Beau Biden again in 2010 as a member of his small re-election campaign team. She was her her “body person” for most of that summer, driving him up and down the state to campaign events.
In 2012, while serving as student body president at American University, McBride came out as transgender. He shared his coming-out note on Facebook and in the student newspaper, unsure of what it would mean for his future in politics.
« It was before what Time Magazine called the ‘transgender turning point,' » McBride said. « I just didn’t know how the Delaware, Delaware policy would respond to an openly transgender person. »
That night, Beau Biden gave her a call. He told her she was still a « part of the Biden family. »
McBride went on to intern at the White House Office Of Public Engagement later that year, working with the Office Of Violence Prevention and becoming the first openly transgender person to work at the White House. She saw then-Vice President Biden for the first time since he stepped out next January, at a Naval Observatory celebration.
Biden approached McBride and asked how she was.
« You are happy? » she asked.
Then she told her that Beau was so proud of her and gave her a hug.
For McBride, these moments of acceptance, particularly from a politician she admired as a young girl interested in a political career, were vital. At age 10, she first met Biden at a local pizzeria. Now the vice president stood before her, affirming her support at a time when politicians did not embrace transgender people.
Even these moments were not insignificant for Biden, who in turn was very impressed by McBride’s coming out. But he said the Biden administration’s journey and commitment to LGBTQ equality today cannot be explained without Beau Biden.
“I really think part of that is this president feeling closer to his son and his son’s legacy,” McBride said.
In 2013, Beau Biden joined Democratic Delaware Governor Jack Markell in supporting marriage equality legislation. But what was seen as a more important deal among LGBTQ advocates at the time was his support for trans people. He has urged state lawmakers to pass legislation to establish protections based on gender identity, said Lisa Goodman, founding president of Equality Delaware.
Beau Biden made videos for his organization advocating for transgender rights, as discussions and attacks about transgender people and bathrooms began to emerge.
“I can’t tell you people I’ve talked to over the years who have sat down with me and said — including, frankly, members of my own extended family — things like, ‘I never understood gay people. I was never really on board until my son, daughter, niece, nephew, brother, came out to me,” Goodman said. “That’s the most powerful thing you can do, is come out as LGBTQ or as ally. »
« And I think Sarah had a huge effect on both of them. »
The 80-year-old president, who as a senator voted for the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act that defined marriage as between a man and a woman, has been ahead of the political curve on LGBTQ issues for the past decade. In 2012, the same year McBride walked out, Biden famously revealed his support for same-sex marriage before his boss at the time, President Barack Obama. Last year he signed the Respect for Marriage Act, solidifying his role as a central figure in the movement.
But his message on transgender issues was also forward-looking, McBride said, noting that Biden, also in 2012, called transgender discrimination the « civil rights issue of our time. » In the foreword to McBride’s 2018 book, « Tomorrow Will Be Different: Love, Loss, and the Struggle for Trans Equality, » Biden wrote, « It’s about freeing America’s soul from the bonds of bigotry, hatred, and of fear and to open people’s hearts and minds to what binds us all together.
Republicans have seized on transgender issues as a basic motivator. In 2023 alone, nearly 500 pieces of legislation addressing LGBTQ rights were introduced in state legislatures. Former President Donald Trump has vowed to punish doctors who provide gender-affirming care if reelected and to reinstate his ban on transgender people in the US military that Biden overturned.
A White House official pointed to numerous actions Biden has taken as president, including his administration’s efforts to strengthen protections for transgender youth in education and health care through regulation. White House and federal agency officials also met with families impacted by the state’s anti-LGBTQ laws, transgender youth visited the White House to share their stories, and Biden spoke directly to transgender youth in all three of his speeches before a joint session of Congress.
Earlier this month, responding to a question about anti-LGBTQ and anti-transgender laws popping up across the country, Biden urged Congress to pass the Equality Act and condemned the « prejudicial » and « unwarranted » attacks against LGBTQ Americans.
“Our fight is far from over because we have some hysterical and, I would say, prejudiced people who are engaged in everything that you see happening across the country,” Biden said. « It’s an appeal to fear, and it’s a totally, completely unwarranted and ugly appeal. »