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Until last week, American University students knew their student government president Sarah McBride as Tim McBride. But on the night of April 30, McBride stepped down from office, and into a largely welcoming university community that embraced her decision to come out as a transgender woman after struggling with her gender identity for 21 years.

“At an early age, I also developed my love of politics,” McBride, a junior this year, wrote in an op-ed for the student paper the Eagle the day following her announcement. “I wrestled with the idea that my dream and my identity seemed mutually exclusive; I had to pick. So I picked what I thought was easier and wouldn’t disappoint people.”

McBride wrote that if she made the world a little better for others, she would find fulfillment that would lessen her own internal struggle. She found working to help others only highlighted it though. “By mid-fall, it had gotten to the point where I was living in my own head,” she wrote. “With everything I did, from the mundane to the exciting, the only way I was able to enjoy it was if I re-imagined doing it as a girl. My life was passing me by, and I was done wasting it as someone I wasn’t.”

With that resolve, one of the most well known students on campus left office turning heads and came out to the entire student body.

“I knew that AU was going to be supportive,” McBride tells us. “I didn’t think the response would be quite as loud as it’s been. I think one of the many good things about the response from the community is that it was so overwhelming and so loud and so fast that people who would have had something negative to say felt the pressure not to say it, and knew they would be in a significant minority.”

McBride says the reactions she’s gotten are overwhelmingly positive save for one or two. Even her fraternity brothers from Sigma Phi Epsilon, from which she is disaffiliating, have been supportive, and many brothers came by to give her a hug after she announced her transition.

Still, the support McBride’s been given isn’t representative of the experience of all trans students at AU, says Matt Bruno, the program coordinator for the GLBTA Resource Center.

“I’ve definitely talked with students who have not had great experiences, or they’ve had positive experiences with some friends, and some faculty, and some staff and have had less than positive experiences with some of the other faculty or staff or other students on campus,” Bruno says. “It kind of depends on the student you talk to because everyone’s going to experience it a little bit differently.” Bruno added that students who have come out as trans and educated their friends, faculty, and staff have paved the way for the response McBride received.

Keeping other students who haven’t had such positive experiences in mind, McBride hopes her coming out will be a “catalyst for long term awareness, not just a momentary blimp on the gossip mill.”

“As great as the response as been and as proud of it as we should be, it shouldn’t be taken as a moment to pat ourselves on the back and then go home,” she says. “It should be a call to arms, it should highlight for people the type of support that all trans students should get, not just me because of the privilege and positions that I’ve had.”

Her own privilege is something McBride’s been talking about a lot, which is pretty novel considering that she shed male and cisgender privilege in her decision to come out.

“I think it’s for more courageous and inspiring and brave for a trans youth to come out to family that might not be supportive and living true to themselves despite that situation or a trans adult coming out in a job where the could theoretically get fired,” McBride said. “If anything, it’s highlighted to me the absolute need for family and friends to be accepting and supportive and loving. If that’s my one takeaway, it’s how lucky I am to have that and how integral and necessary it is for other LGBTQ individuals to have that because if I didn’t, I don’t know how I would’ve been able to handle this.”

Photo courtesy Sarah McBride