A Virginia woman is campaigning to become the first openly transgender person elected to a state legislature, and her journey has not come without hardships.
Danica Roem, from Manassas, has already made history by beating three other candidates to nab the Democratic nomination for Virginia’s 13th district; if she wins the general election, she’ll become one of few transgender elected officials in the world — and she’s opening up about her path to get there.
Although the 32-year-old former reporter is an obvious supporter of LGBT rights, Roem doesn’t want to make her candidacy about her gender identity by criticizing her opponent’s record of pushing socially conservative laws.
Instead, she has built her platform around an issue that everyone can rally behind: alleviating the district’s traffic.
Next November, she will face off against Republican incumbent Bob Marshall, who has held the seat for 25 years and stands for strictly conservative social policy, playing a crucial role in some of the state’s most anti-LGBT legislation.
But the lifelong Manassas resident told the Huffington Post that the reason she’s running for Delegate is because Marshall has failed to fix Route 28, which she says is ‘the number one quality of life problem in the district’. Instead of fixing the traffic issue, she says Marshall has instead ‘decided to castigate, stigmatize, and single out his own constituents who happen to be LGBT’.
She continued: ‘As someone who happens to be transgender, I’m tired of the fact that Marshall’s legislative priorities are more focused where I go to the bathroom than how to get his constituents to work.’
Still, the stakes are high for someone like Roem in the current political climate, and sometimes her emotions get in the way — like when, as she told Cosmopolitan magazine, the transgender military ban was announced and she had to excuse herself from a local union office to she could ‘go outside and cuss’.
‘If I had gone on social media at that point, I would’ve said things that were potentially regrettable,’ said Roem, who instead drove to her campaign headquarters and wrote a statement against the ban, calling it the ‘height of hypocrisy’.
‘Costs too much? I’m sorry, they’re willing to die for you,’ she said. ‘How much does that cost?’
And campaigning doesn’t always gone seamlessly, either. During her first week on the trail, Roem encountered a conversion therapist who told her she was transgender because her dad committed suicide when she was just three years old, and her grandfather was an inadequate male role model.
That wasn’t the only moment she faced discrimination. After she won the primaries, her opponent Marshall referred to her as ‘he’.
Roem, who started transitioning when she was 28, covered two brutal local murders of transgender women as a reporter, and said she knows she’s taking a risk by knocking on the doors of many ultra conservatives.
‘I know that every door I knock on could be my last,’ she told Cosmopolitan, adding that this is part of the reason why she doesn’t talk about her boyfriend and her nine-year-old stepdaughter. ‘I don’t want to expose my family to this s***.’
Marshall couldn’t have an opponent more knowledgeable about his history. As a reporter for the Gainesville Times, Roem covered the incumbent’s every move from 2006 to 2015, making her uniquely apt to discuss every detail of his record.
Perhaps this is why he’s refusing to debate Roem. According to the Washington Post, he has declined to participate in debates or candidate forums, citing a divisive political climate in the county
‘In the last few elections, there’s been a distinct lack of civility,’ Marshall said to the newspaper. ‘Prior to that, it wasn’t so bad. You weren’t automatically identified as a bigot, or a hatemonger or anything like this. That has changed.’
Roem quit her job as a reporter to make time for campaigning, and even if she wins the part-time position, she’ll earn a modest salary of $17,640 a year, which is why she’s hoping to also win a book deal if she becomes the first transgender woman elected as a state legislator.
‘The message that I can succeed because of my gender, not despite it, because of who I am without being afraid of who I am is a human message,’ Roem told Cosmopolitan. ‘It’s something that even if you are cisgender, but you have some reason that you’ve been singled out in your life, you have some reason that you’ve been stigmatized in your life, you’ve had some reason when you’ve been cornered in your life for being yourself, you can look at me and say, “If she can do this, so can I.”‘
Roem also hopes that if she wins the seat she’ll offer the nation a different perspective on what a transgender woman looks like: not glamorous and full of resources like the famous Caitlyn Jenner or Laverne Cox, but a normal person who’s never experienced much privilege.
‘I grew up in a time when trans people were punch lines on television shows, and those kinds of things really undermine trans folks’ identities and who we are as a whole when, as I and other transgender people can say confidently, society doesn’t really give trans people any role models to look up to, growing up or otherwise,’ she told the Huffington Post.
Roem is one of seven transgender candidates in Virginia to advance to the general elections, and their candidacies come at a time when transgender rights are at the center of the political discourse, with a president that is intent on pulling back protections provided by the the Obama administration.
President Trump began the process of banning transgenders from the military with a tweet, and has stripped guidance about how school districts should treat trans students equally from Title IX, a federal law that bans discrimination of anyone based on sex in federally funded schools and education programs.
This and other controversial actions and statements have united local democratic chapters, making Roem’s candidacy possible in district that, though Republican, went for president Hillary Clinton by 14 percentage points last November. In fact,four years ago, Marshall’s democratic opponent came within 500 votes of unseating him.
And if fundraising is to predict anything, it looks like Roem has a chance of finishing the job- she has outraised the conservative by a 5-to-1 margin, according to the Washington Post.
The battle for Virginia’s 13th district perfectly showcases the country’s division, with one candidate representing those who want more liberal laws and the other a fierce defender of social conservatism.
Since being elected in 1992, Delegate Marshall has built an anti-LGBT record, playing a crucial role in some of the state’s most socially conservative legislation. He authored a constitutional amendment that defined marriage as exclusively between a man and a woman, which is now void as a result of the Supreme Court’s ruling making same-sex marriage the law of the land.
He also sponsored a bill that banned gay people from openly serving in the Virginia National Guard and unsuccessfully pushed a bill to ban transgenders from using the bathroom of the sex they identify with.
In an interview with NBC, Marshall defended his record, saying he respects every person because ‘because we are all made in our Creator’s image.’
The 73-year-old added: ‘I’m not trying to tell people like Danica, formerly Dan, how to live their life, and likewise they should not be forcing their views and behaviors on the rest of us.’