Danica Roem Wins Virginia Race, Breaking a Barrier for Transgender People

By MAGGIE ASTOR NOV. 7, 2017 / PHOTO Al Drago For the NYTimes

She campaigned on everyday issues, like reducing traffic on a congested state highway. But her victory on Tuesday was a social breakthrough that brought seasoned advocates to tears.

In a local election in Northern Virginia, Danica Roem, 33, defeated a Republican who had served in the state’s House of Delegates for a quarter of a century — and, in doing so, Ms. Roem became the first transgender person to be elected to the Virginia legislature.

Only one other openly transgender person has been elected to a state legislature anywhere in the United States: Stacie Laughton, a Democrat who won a seat in the New Hampshire House in 2012 but never took office because of an outcry over her failure to disclose a felony conviction. Another, Althea Garrison, elected to the Massachusetts House in 1992, came out as transgender during her term in office but lost every campaign she ran after coming out.

Ms. Roem and her campaign manager, Ethan Damon, did not respond to an email requesting comment Tuesday evening. But in a recent interview with Mother Jones, Ms. Roem emphasized that her campaign was about policy, not just her identity.

“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,” she said. “We shouldn’t just be pigeonholed into the idea that we’re just going to be fighting about bathrooms.”

Ms. Roem will be just one state lawmaker out of more than 7,000 nationwide, but her victory resonated far beyond her legislative influence. Gay and lesbian Americans have made major strides in terms of both social acceptance and political representation, but transgender Americans are still struggling for both. There are seven openly gay members of Congress — six in the House and one in the Senate — but no openly transgender members. Many antidiscrimination laws protect people on the basis of sexual orientation but not gender identity, and killings of transgender people are on the rise.

But in January, Sarah McBride, a spokeswoman for the Human Rights Campaign, tweeted, “a trans woman will walk into the capitol built by Jefferson to take her seat in the Virginia legislature.”

In an email on Tuesday night, Ms. McBride, herself a transgender woman, wrote: “It’s difficult to encapsulate just how powerful it is to see this particular glass ceiling shattered. Reading the history books growing up, it became clear to me that no one like me made it very far — at least no one who was out.”

“For trans youth across the country, Danica Roem’s election isn’t just a headline or even history,” she added. “It’s hope. Hope for a better tomorrow.”

Charles Clymer, a writer who identifies as genderqueer, tweeted that Ms. Roem had “inspired a generation of trans kids to believe.”

Charles Clymer @cmclymer

I was crying last year around this time for a very different reason. Feels pretty damn good to shed plenty of happy tears. Well done, @pwcdanica. Thank you for stepping up and having the courage to lead. You just inspired a generation of trans kids to believe. #ElectionDay

8:16 PM - Nov 7, 2017

The symbolism of Ms. Roem’s victory was amplified by the fact that the man she defeated — Bob Marshall, a Republican running for his 14th term — is an outspoken opponent of transgender rights. He introduced a bill this year that would have barred transgender students from using the bathrooms of their choice and required school officials to inform the parents of any student who asked “to be recognized or treated as the opposite sex.” And during the campaign, he repeatedly used male pronounsto refer to Ms. Roem.

In a Facebook post after the race was called, Mr. Marshall thanked his supporters and wrote, “Though we all wish tonight would have turned out differently, I am deeply grateful for your support and effort over the years.” He did not mention Ms. Roem.

Nicholas Trevino @BlyTarbell

When asked about Bob Marshall, Danica Roem said “I don't attack my constituents. Bob is my constituent now.” 

She has more grace and composure than I will ever have. #virginia #DanicaRoem

Ms. McBride predicted that more openly transgender candidates would run for office now that Ms. Roem has paved the way.

“And if they’re greeted by skeptical party leaders or operatives,” she said, “they can point to Roem’s victory as proof that trans candidates can win, that their candidacies can generate excitement, and that voters will judge trans candidates on their merits, not their identities.”

Lew