LGBTQ rights advocate Sarah McBride

LGBTQ rights advocate Sarah McBride
LGBTQ rights advocate Sarah McBride 07:42

When Sarah McBride was sworn in as a Delaware State Senator last month, she made history, becoming the country's highest-ranking elected official who is transgender.

"I think it's awe-inspiring. I feel a deep sense of responsibility," she said.

In fact, this is not the first time McBride has made history, as someone who has packed ages of experience in life and love into just 30 years.

"She's the strongest, most resilient person I know," said Sally McBride. But for many years, she and David McBride did not know that the child they thought of as their youngest son had a secret.

Sarah told correspondent Rita Braver, "From my earliest memories, I remember lying in my bed at night, praying that I would wake up the next day and be myself, that my family would be proud of me, and judge me on my merits."

"And see you as a girl?" Braver asked.

"And see me as myself."

Delaware State Senator Sarah McBride. CBS News

Even then, McBride had a passion for politics: "But at the same time it did not seem like it was possible to be out and trans and to be involved in politics, whether it's running for office, serving in government, you know, even being on a campaign."

Still, McBride worked on the attorney general campaign of Beau Biden, the president's late son, and that of former Delaware governor Jack Markell.

"I knew this young person had something very special, a number of things that were very special – unbelievably articulate and a great orator," Markell said.

Still struggling to fit in as a male, McBride attended American University in Washington, D.C., and was elected student body president. But finally, by Christmas 2011, the pain could not be denied: "It wasn't until I was student body president that I had the experiences and the courage and the confidence and the insight that showed me that the things I told myself that would heal that pain, wouldn't," McBride said.

Braver asked Sarah's parents, "When Sarah comes to you and says, 'Mom, Dad, I've got something to tell you …' your immediate response?"

"I was devastated," said Sally. "Fell on the floor, and started weeping."

Because? "Because I felt that she would be discriminated against at every turn."

But despite the initial shock, "I knew we were gonna be supportive of her the minute she came out to us," said David. "There was never a doubt in my mind."

And as the student body president term ended, McBride published an Op-Ed in the university newspaper.

"What did it feel like for you to finally be able to say, 'Hey, guess what, this is who I am'?" asked Braver.

"Complete and utter relief."

The next year, McBride would make history, joining the Obama-Biden administration as the first openly-transgender female White House intern. And it was at a White House event that she first encountered a handsome, young attorney: a trans man named Andrew Cray. 

"Andy was the kindest, funniest, smartest person that I had ever met," McBride said.

The two became a couple, even as McBride started working in Delaware. With her parents by her side, at just 22 years old she led the fight to pass the state's first law that protects transgender people from discrimination.

But just as life was looking sunny, McBride's partner got sobering news: "I think everyone fears hearing that word in particular: cancer," she said.

It was a sad and scary year-long battle, with McBride acting as Cray's caregiver.

"I remember breaking down and selfishly saying, 'I can't do this.' And what I meant was, I can't, I need help. And to this day, what makes me feel guilty is that in that moment of complete fear for him, he was trying to comfort me."

Finally, when they learned Cray's cancer was terminal, they decided to marry. Four days after their wedding, he passed away.

Braver asked, "How hard was it for you to go on, and go back to living some sort of life?"

"Incredibly difficult," McBride said. "But then, I also felt like I saw how precious life was, and I felt closer to Andy going back to work."

Sarah's work as an advocate for LGBTQ rights helped earn her another historic role: in 2016, at the invitation of the Clinton campaign, she became the first transgender person to speak at a national political convention. 

Sarah McBride being sworn into Delaware's State Senate.  CBS News

"Ninety-nine percent of people in that arena didn't know anything about me; they did know, though, that this was a moment," McBride said.

Winning a state senate seat was also a moment. But she says, her life is still not complete.

Braver asked, "Do you hope you'll find a partner, someone who you enjoy sharing the rest of your life with?"

"I do," she replied. "There were so many instances, there were so many moments during this campaign where I thought about Andy, where I wished I could have him comfort me, and it really reinforced for me how eventually I would like to have a partner in life."

Meanwhile, McBride is well aware that being the highest-elected transgender official in U.S. history has cast her into a bright spotlight:

"I feel a responsibility to ensure that while I may be the first, that I'm not the last. And so, the more examples we have, in more communities and in more states across the country, the more people we'll see step up and inevitably, the more people we'll see win."

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Story produced by Robert Marston and Jay Kernis. Editor: Remington Korper.