After Sarah McBride’s husband, LGBTQ health advocate Andy Cray, died from cancer in 2014, she vowed to live her life in a way that does justice to his legacy. Six years later — on a platform of issues close to her heart, like paid family and medical leave for all workers — McBride was elected to Delaware’s General Assembly, becoming the nation’s first person who publicly identifies as transgender to serve as a state senator and the highest-ranking transgender elected official. “Andy would be proud,” McBride told ELLE.com, “but he would be the first person to say the work is never over.”
McBride, 30, takes ELLE.com inside her decision to run for office — and what she hopes to accomplish in Delaware.
I’ve seen my home state of Delaware at its best. I credit my neighbors there with shaping me into the person I am today and helping me through some of the most difficult moments in my life, including coming out. But I also know where Delaware falls short, like families going bankrupt due to insurmountable healthcare costs.
This is one of the biggest issues that keeps Delawareans up at night. I know because I experienced it firsthand. In 2014, I lost my husband, Andy, to terminal cancer. Before he died, we were lucky enough to have comprehensive health insurance and an employer that was flexible and willing enough to give us space and time for Andy to focus on his health and for me to focus on being his caregiver. It allowed us to spend what little precious time he had left with one another. And yet, even with all that support, we barely kept our heads above water. We faced surprise medical bills and struggled balancing our jobs.
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Many people aren’t offered that same kind of structure that Andy and I were. Many people can’t make it through those same challenges with their jobs intact and savings in the bank.
Andy and I got married shortly after he received his terminal cancer diagnosis. The wedding was beautiful. It took place on the rooftop of our apartment building in D.C. with 50 of our closest friends and family. Four days after we exchanged vows, he died.
Every day since, I’ve thought to myself, “What would Andy do?” I try to live my life in a way that does right by him and does justice to his legacy. Even before his diagnosis with cancer, his passion was to ensure that more people got the care they need. Andy was a transgender man, an advocate, and a lawyer at the Center for American Progress. He spent his life pushing for change that, in some cases, he saw in his lifetime, but in many cases he never saw. He was honored posthumously by president Barack Obama as a “Champion of Change” for his contributions to LGBTQ health.
The issues that I’m passionate about — and my sense of urgency to push for change — come from my relationship and my love for Andy. It is both his work and his life that inform me.
Government is where you can make change for the most number of people in the most number of ways. My decision to run for office was one based on hope and the knowledge that change is possible if you work hard enough. I ran my campaign on issues like paid family and medical leave. No one should have to choose between getting by and getting well and staying well. This is a critical priority.
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The outpouring of support was incredibly touching when I won the election, especially from the parents of trans kids, who sent me video messages of them celebrating the results. It’s my hope that this race send a simple, but potentially life-affirming message to young people struggling to find their place in this world: Our democracy is big enough for them, too.
Andy would be proud. But he would be the first person to say the work is never over. Now the real hard work begins. I have never been more hopeful in our capacity to make change, and I believe that our democracy is worth fighting for.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
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