Danica Roem, a transgender Democrat, is running for office, and wants to unseat one of Virginia’s most conservative Republicans. Roem’s candidacy is attracting support from liberals and LGBTQ advocates across the nation, hoping to make a statement with a win.
Roem is running against Bob Marshall, who has served in District 13 of the Virginia House of Delegates for 11 terms. If Roem wins, it will mark the first time an openly trangender person has won a state legislature seat in Virginia. A win would also make Roem the only transgender person in a state legislature in the nation.
Republican Delegate Marshall is being targeted by Roem and other Democrats because he introduced the “bathroom bill” in Virginia. That bill required individuals to use a bathroom consistent with their actual gender from birth. Throwing Marshall out of office would be a significant symbolic gesture for left-wing LGBTQ activists.
Liberals are also upset that Marshall has consistently referred to Roem as male, rather than female.
Roem’s very local campaign was quickly ushered into the national spotlight. The phones started ringing. “For the first time all campaign, I actually had to outsource scheduling to my campaign manager,” Roem tells me, laughing.
As an ex-journalist who used to write for local papers, Roem is trying to keep the press focused on her “bread and butter issues” like District 13’s traffic woes, even as the national media would prefer to discuss the precedent she might set come November.
Danica Roem wishes her gender identity weren’t relevant to politics. But she knows it is—especially when she’s running against a delegate who introduced extreme anti-transgender bathroom legislation in Virginia earlier this year which would have restricted restroom use based on “original birth certificate.”
“Representation absolutely matters,” Roem says. “How wonderful a world it would be if identity politics didn’t have to exist at all! But the fact of the matter is that when you have non-transgender, white, straight, male Republicans crafting laws about gender identity that don’t include [transgender people], then you’re leaving out the segment of the population whom those laws will adversely affect in the first place.”
Roem’s gender also matters because her opponent appears not to recognize it. In a statement to The Washington Post on Tuesday, Delegate Marshall misgendered Roem, referring to her with male pronouns. Marshall did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment on his misgendering of Roem—an act which contradicts not just her womanhood but her driver’s license and passport as well.
“Delegate Marshall said in The Washington Post that he wants to keep this debate on the issues [and] I do too,” Roem said, when asked about Marshall’s statement.
But she added: “If he makes personal attacks at me, if he misgenders me, that becomes an issue. It is absolutely fundamentally not OK to single out and stigmatize one of your constituents—to basically say that you know who I am better than I do.”
The Daily Beast reports Roem’s candidacy is getting outside funding from LGBTQ groups, and a victory would send a message to conservatives.
Her candidacy was supported by the Victory Fund, a PAC that works to elect LGBT candidates. They see her—and the other transgender candidates they are supporting in 2017—as a direct response to the anti-transgender bathroom legislation that has been swirling around state legislatures for the past few years, rarely getting passed but always looming.
“Trans people have been severely underrepresented and marginalized in our politics and our government—and the consequences are evident as hostile political forces push anti-trans measures across the nation,” said Victory Fund president and CEO Aisha C. Moodie-Mills in a statement to The Daily Beast. “The unprecedented number of trans candidates running for office is the response to these bad actors—that we have reached a tipping point and will no longer stand on the sidelines as trans lives are debated without trans voices.”
Still, the drama of a race between an openly transgender candidate like Danica Roem and an incumbent like Marshall whose website accuses judges who support same-sex marriage of “think[ing] they are smarter than Moses or Jesus Christ” has been difficult to ignore.
University of Mary Washington political science professor Stephen Farnsworth told Mother Jones that the election would be “catnip for reporters” and, judging from the emails now flooding Roem’s campaign, that has proved to be the case.
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