Sam Brinton, a Biden administration nuclear official, made headlines this week after they were arrested for allegedly stealing a woman’s suitcase in Minneapolis airport — and then using it for a month before claiming it was taken by accident.
But it isn’t the first time the 35-year-old nuclear engineer has made the news.
Brinton, who uses they/them pronouns, became one of the federal government’s first gender non-binary officials earlier this year when they took on a role in the Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy.
So who is Sam Brinton – and what path did they take to get in the Biden administration?
Southern Baptist background
Brinton was born in Iowa to Southern Baptist missionary parents who moved the family from place to place.
They told Yahoo Life last month that they came out as bisexual to their parents in high school — and was quickly put into a conversion therapy program for two years in a bid to change their sexual identity.
“It caused a lot of suicidal ideation in my life,” Brinton told the outlet.
“It did a lot of damage to both me and my family because my family was given the false hope that I could just flip a switch, and change when I would recognize that I wasn’t changing.”
Their experience spurred them to launch the #50Bills50States campaign with The Trevor Project, a LGBTQ youth organization, to try and ban conversion therapy nationwide.
“We passed more than 20 laws ending conversion therapy, protecting future generations from ever having to go through what I went through,” Brinton said.
It was around this time that Brinton decided to start pursuing nuclear engineering.
From nuclear engineer to government official
Brinton obtained their undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering with a nuclear engineering focus from Kansas State University before going on to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to receive graduate degrees in nuclear science and engineering.
Before taking up the government job, Brinton spent several years working for liberal and environmentalist think tanks — including the Breakthrough Institute, Clean Air Task Force and Third Way.
They were named deputy assistant secretary for spent fuel and waste disposition at the Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy back in June.
Brinton celebrated the new gig by posting a photo on social media that showed them wearing a red jumpsuit, bright lipstick and Stars and Stripes-clad stilettos.
In their role, Brinton manages “ongoing research and development related to long-term disposition of spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste,” according to their official government bio page.
Views on gender identity
Brinton opened up on becoming the first openly genderfluid person in government service, telling Yahoo Life that they had been given an opportunity to “serve my country as I am.”
“I can’t change my identity more than anyone can change intrinsic parts about themselves, but I can change my openness,” they said.
“And so I am given the opportunity to serve my country as I am, and that’s a really important aspect of my work because I work on nuclear waste management, where transparency and honesty and trust-building are so critical.”
They added: “So if I can’t be myself, it’s really hard to build those relationships. I’m proud to say that, yes, I get to be the first openly genderfluid person in this type of government service, but I won’t be the last.”
Brinton’s arrest for the alleged theft came just months after they took up the federal government gig.
They are accused of snatching a $2,325 Vera Bradley suitcase from baggage claim at Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport back on Sept. 16, court documents say.
When Brinton was confronted by police nearly a month later, they initially denied stealing the bag — insisting their clothes were inside the suitcase at the time.
But Brinton quickly backtracked and claimed they had taken the piece of luggage by mistake.
Brinton told police they first realized the bag wasn’t theirs when they opened it at the hotel. They got nervous that someone would think they stole it, so they emptied out the suitcase and dumped the woman’s clothes in the drawers of the hotel room, the court documents say.
Surveillance footage showed Brinton allegedly grabbing the luggage from the carousel and removing the ID tag identifying the owner. Brinton was later captured on surveillance using the same suitcase on at least two trips to Washington, DC, on Sept. 18 and Oct. 9, according to authorities.
The Biden official was charged with felony theft of a moveable property without consent.