Three Takeaways: Virginia Delegate Danica Roem

JEFF CIRILLO: Danica Roem, a freshman legislator in the Virginia House of Delegates, became one of the first openly transgender elected officials in the country last year after defeating a Virginia state delegate who called himself Virginia’s “chief homophobe.” Since her victory, Roem has gained star power among Democratic and LGBT activists as a nationwide advocate for transgender rights.

On Tuesday, more than 100 students piled into the Healey Family Student Center, leaving standing room only for on-time arrivals, to hear her perspectives on transgender rights, national politics and local government. 

Here are three key takeaways from the event, co-hosted by the Georgetown University College Democrats, GU Pride, the LGBTQ Resource Center, the Georgetown University Lecture Fund and the McCourt LGBTQ Policy Initiative.

 

Running while Trans

Trained as a journalist, Roem did not run primarily on her transgender identity. Her signature issue was easing Virginia’s notorious traffic. She also talked about health care and raising teacher pay. 

Still, during her campaign Roem became the target of disparaging ads focused on her gender identity and questioning her morals. Her incumbent opponent, Del. Robert Marshall, refused to debate Roem and referred to her by male pronouns during the race. His campaign accused Roem, among other things, of wanting to “teach transgenderism to kindergarteners.”

But she said prospective candidates should not be scared away by the harsh words they will likely face in the political arena.

“People will say horrible, vile things to you,” Roem said. “And when they try to take your rights away, you’ll take their seat away.”

 

An Identity Under Siege

The movement for transgender rights has hit setbacks under the Trump administration, which has weakened protections for transgender people in schools, workplaces and the military. Just last week, the New York Times reportedthe Trump administration is considering “narrowly defining gender as a biological, immutable condition determined by genitalia at birth.” 

“Now we’re at a point where the federal government is questioning our very existence as trans folks,” Roem said Tuesday. But given the circumstances, given the fight, we will organize, we will mobilize and we will win.” 

In a demoralizing era for activists on the political left, Roem told the audience to resist the notion that our politics are beyond repair — “because we can fix it.”

“Our government, and the ability to be in government, are not just the domain of the rich and powerful,” Roem said. “That’s for us too.”

 

Local Politics Still Reigns

Roem’s persona projects the type of politician she likes to see. She didn’t come from money, and she doesn’t have a nice car. She wore a black hoodie over her dress Thursday while she told self-deprecating jokes and flashed cheesy smiles. She fights for transgender rights, and also can “nerd out” on local issues from toll roads to mulch.

With midterm elections just a week away, Roem’s most potent advice to Georgetown students about fighting for the kind of government they want to see: one that is accountable, responsive and aligns with their values.

As for her political future, Roem hinted she may not be aiming too much higher — not to the federal level, anyway. “No I ain’t running for that, hell no,” Roem joked about Congress. “I don’t hate myself that much.”

Max Magid