Delaware’s first transgender state senator, Sarah McBride, was sworn into office Tuesday, along with a diverse lineup of freshman lawmakers.
The swearing-in ceremonies took place during the first day of the state’s legislative session, which was held virtually because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The freshman lawmakers spoke from their homes and other venues.
McBride took her oath of office outside the Claymont Community Center, which used to be Claymont High School. Seventy years ago, it became the first school to legally integrate when 12 students walked through the doors.
“That change only occurred because Delawareans like the Claymont 12 and other young people dared to challenge the injustice of the status quo and dream of a different world. Today, as the Claymont Community Center, the building serves as a place of gathering and support for Delawareans of every background and identity. The story of this building is the story of our communities, that we share a neighborly duty to care and we can change,” McBride said.
“Seventy years later, we now navigate crises both old and new. A public health crisis that has killed nearly 1,000 Delawareans, left many unemployed, and laid bare the pre-existing shortcomings of our society. We face a crisis of inequities in our justice system, a climate crisis at our shores, and a crisis of trust in our government and in one another. Our history and our future and the significance of this moment leave all of us with a duty to meet this moment with real action, and to reimagine our world not as it was but as it should and could be.”
A Delaware native, McBride is a longtime community advocate who has been involved in politics for several years. She has worked for former Gov. Jack Markell, Attorney General Beau Biden, and in the White House during the Obama administration. She also made history in 2016, when she was the first openly transgender person to speak at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.
McBride serves as a spokesperson for LGBTQ+ advocacy organization the Human Rights Campaign. She’s also a published author; her book “Tomorrow Will Be Different” details her advocacy work, as well as her relationship with her late husband, Andrew Cray, who lost his life to cancer. McBride’s experience caring for her husband while he was sick inspired her to prioritize medical leave as one of her platforms.
McBride’s campaign also focused on access to health care, paid family leave, access to early childhood education, increasing the minimum wage, renewable energy, gun safety restrictions, and criminal justice reform.
During her oath of office, McBride was joined by her predecessor, State Sen. Harris McDowell, who decided not to run for reelection after serving in the General Assembly since 1976.
“It won’t be easy, but I’m confident with new diversity in our legislature, with our range of talents in our General Assembly, with the experience of returning members and perspective of new members, we have what it takes to make progress,” McBride said.
The Senate also swore in Kyle Evans Gay, Spiro Mantizvinos, and Marie Pinkney, who was the first openly gay woman to be elected to the State Senate. (Former State Sen. Karen Peterson came out during the end of her term.)
Pinkney thanked her family, friends, and those who voted for her.
“There’s no way I’d be here without you. I’d like to thank you for taking a chance on me. When we launched this campaign over a year ago, most of you didn’t know who I was. But so many of you took the time to sit with me, first at your doors, then over the phone, and even on social media and other platforms,” she said.
“Together, we talked about how tired we were of the status quo. Together, you shared with me your stories of joy and triumph, but of struggle as well. We talked about gun violence, poor health care outcomes, we talked about educational systems, but even more importantly, we talked about how we can and will put an end to all these things. We discussed how together through policy and through advocacy we have the ability to make and create a Delaware we’re proud of … together, we will create the Delaware we talked about.”
The House also swore in new members, including its first openly gay man, Eric Morrison, and its first Muslim lawmaker, Madinah Wilson-Anton, as well as Larry Lambert and Sherea Moore. The latter three, along with Pinkney in the Senate, increase the General Assembly’s African American representation.
“I am very proud to be the first Muslim elected to the General Assembly, and I’m very excited to be a part of this very diverse class,” Wilson-Anton said. “As we face unprecedented challenges during this pandemic, it’s an honor to help improve the lives of my neighbors and my community.”
With the newly elected officials in the Senate, the chamber’s Democratic caucus increased its majority, beginning a new session with 14 members for the first time in a decade. Bryan Townsend became the new Senate majority leader, while Elizabeth “Tizzy” Lockman became the new Senate majority whip.
Though this year’s legislative session will be held virtually, officials are making plans to take safety precautions following last week’s violent riot in the U.S. Capitol building. The FBI has issued warnings about armed protests at capitol buildings across the country in the coming days.
“The violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol Building and planned events in the coming days have made what once was an extreme hypothetical situation very real. Even as the riots in Washington, D.C., were ongoing, we were in touch with our Delaware Capitol Police about building security, and we have had ongoing conversations with them about building security, both in advance of Sunday’s protests and going forward,” House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf and Senate President Pro Tempore Dave Sokola said in a joint statement.
“As many other states have likely experienced, the events of the past week have caused us to re-examine our policies and procedures, and this will be an ongoing process. While we cannot comment on specific steps being taken, we can say that we take the public’s safety very seriously and are taking every precaution possible.
“The best way to prepare for these potentially violent situations is to have good intelligence. While we’re assured that Capitol Police and law enforcement at all levels are monitoring any and all threats, it’s worth noting that intel is a two-way street. Everyone — legislators, staff, members of the public — have a responsibility to say something if they see something online or hear something, whether they believe it’s credible or not. As we’ve seen during the past week, the leap from rhetoric to violence can be startingly thin.”
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