On Monday 22 February 2021, the John Smith Centre proudly hosted State Senator Sarah McBride as part of our Power Hour series and to mark the UK’s LGBT History Month.

Sarah has been involved in community advocacy for most of her life, including working for former Governor Jack Markell, the late Attorney General Beau Biden, and as a White House intern during the Obama Administration. Most recently, she served as a spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, the United States of America’s largest LGBTQ equal rights organization.

When Sarah McBride was elected in November 2020 to the first state senate district of Delaware, she became the first openly transgender state senator in American history.

The full 60 minute session is available to watch or listen to again here, but here’s a quick run down of the key moments picked by our Centre Director, Kezia Dugdale.

What sparked your interest in politics?

Most politicians have a prepared answer for a question like this because it comes up so often in school visits and general question and answer sessions. Normally the answer will have a clear narrative arc about an injustice they experienced or witnessed. Sarah took us by surprise with this answer which was fundamentally about architecture.

Why run for elected office?

John Smith Centre research shows that women are increasingly turning away from traditional forms of political participation. In the UK we’ve also witnessed a trend of female Members of Parliament standing down at an early stage in their careers with fewer years served. The increasingly toxic atmosphere of political debate, particularly online, is also a huge turn off for prospective candidates. So why stand? In this response, Sen. Sarah McBride provides the perfect answer.


Decide – what type of activist or politician are you going to be?

Senator McBride reflects on her recent election campaign. She remarks that the most challenging aspect of her campaign was not the fact that she was trans, but because she was defined as a progressive which to a lot of people meant she was an agitator and a disruptor. In this clip, she describes why her electoral success was actually tied to convincing people that she’d build bridges rather throw bombs. She describes it much better herself in this clip.

Does diversity really matter?

Before her 10 years leading an LGBTQ+ rights organisation, Sarah worked as an intern in the White House under Barack Obama’s presidency. This clip bottles down to two phrases we know well – “you can’t be what you can’t see” and “if you’re not at the table you’re on the menu”.

What brings you hope?

We close with what brings Sarah McBride hope for the future. She argues that the ingredients of progress to break through the walls that stand in the way are there now. It just needs persistance and perseverance.

Everyone at the John Smith Centre is so grateful to Senator Sarah McBride for giving us not just an hour of her time, but such a renewed sense of positivity about politics as a force for good.