Elizabeth Wells takes a look at how the first transgender woman is set to take office in state legislature after her win in the elections this November.
The first openly transgender woman has been elected to the Virginia House of Delegates, and once seated, she will be the first openly trans person to serve in a state legislature in the United States.
Democrat Danica Roem, a 33-year-old former journalist, shattered the glass ceiling on 7th November, in an ironic defeat of Republican incumbent Bob Marshall, who is widely considered to be one of the most anti-LGBTQ+ lawmakers in the United States. Just last year, he proposed the ‘bathroom bill’ that would have barred transgender people in Virginia from using public restrooms of their associated gender. Roem won with 54% of the vote over Marshall’s 46%. Marshall has held the office for the last 26 years.
While Roem’s victory stands as a groundbreaking achievement for the LGBTQ+ community, she emphasised that her campaign was about policy as much as it was identity. The main pillar of her campaign was to revamp the infrastructure in her district to alleviate traffic issues. Increasing teacher pay and expanding Medicaid in the area were also among her top priorities.
“Transgender people have really good public policy ideas that span the gamut of transportation policy to health care policy to education policy, and yes, to civil rights as well,” Roem said in an interview with Mother Jones. “We shouldn’t just be pigeonholed into the idea that we’re just going to be fighting about bathrooms.”
Over the course of the campaign, Marshall, who has labelled himself as “chief homophobe,” refused to publicly debate Roem, and repeatedly referred to Roem using male pronouns. He also accused Roem of using her identity to further her political agenda, despite Roem continuously stressing the importance of her policy initiatives. Marshall authorised a campaign flyer sent out in the weeks leading to the election which included the section “Danica Roem in his own Words” and the heading “Danica Roem, born male, has made a campaign issue out of transitioning to female.”
“My credentials for this office are not based on my gender,” Roem told the Washington Blade, an LGBT+ news publication.
In a response to Marshall misgendering her, she released a campaign ad of showing the normality of her morning routine, putting on make-up and taking hormone pills, stating “This shouldn’t be newsworthy or political, this is just who I am.” In the world of white-male dominated U.S. politics, her victory proves that ability and achievement do not have to be defined by exclusive social constructs.
“We can’t get lost in discrimination. . . I want to make a point here, that no matter what you look like, where you come from, how you worship, who you love, how you identify. . . that if you have good public policy ideas, if you’re well-qualified for office, bring those ideas to the table, because this is your America too,” Roem said in her victory speech.
Roem grew up in Prince William County, located within the district where she was elected. After college, she returned to pursue a career in journalism, covering issues like roads and development for nine years. This gave her a solid foundation for the issues for which she ran her campaign on and a strong local network. Outside of work, she also sings and plays guitar in a heavy death metal band called Cab Ride Home.
The LGBT+ community has reacted with enthusiasm across the country in the wake of Roem’s victory. Sarah McBride, a transgender LGBT+ rights activist and the national press secretary for the Human Rights Campaign, said this was more than just a historic moment.
“For trans youth across the country, Danica Roem’s election isn’t just a headline or even history,” she told The New York Times. “It’s hope. Hope for a better tomorrow.”
Although some anti-discrimination laws protecting transgender people have come into effect in various states across the country, trans people face high levels of discrimination and violence. According to National Transgender Discrimination Survey, a report carried out in 2016 by the National Center for Transgender Equality, 26% of trans people lost a job due to bias, 50% were harassed on the job, 20% were evicted or denied housing, and 78% of trans students were harassed or assaulted.
Roem was one of the several transgender democratic victories that took place in early November, including Gerry Cannon, who became the first transgender person elected to New Hampshire public office; Andrea Jenkins to the Minneapolis’ city council, who is also the first black transgender woman to be elected to public office in the United Sates; and Lisa Middleton, who was the first transgender person to win a non-judicial election in California.