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Catching up with Danica Roem

The state’s first transgender Senator on her new role in the House of Delegates, the future of Youngkin’s Model Policies, and how Trump’s reelection might not be such a sure thing after all.

In 2017, Danica Roem of Virginia made history when she became the first out transgender person in the U.S. to be elected to a state legislature. Her opponent, Bob Marshall, a 13-term incumbent representative and self-described “chief homophobe,” was a sponsor of Virginia’s bill to end same-sex marriage and Virginia’s bathroom bill. As a result, her campaign faced significant transphobic discrimination, and Marshall consistently attacked her gender identity.

Despite (or perhaps because of) his track record, Roem won Marshall’s seat by eight points.

Since then, the 39-year-old has been reelected delegate twice and. this past November in an historic state election that saw Democrats retaking full control of the General Assembly, she won her race for state senator representing Virginia’s 30th District and her hometown, Manassas. In the process, she also became the first openly transgender person to be elected and serve in both houses of a state legislature, and the first transgender state senator in the South.

We first spoke with her shortly after her election to the House (Outlife757 Winter/Spring 2018), and in light of her latest win, we decided it was time to catch up again.

Outlife757: It’s good to sit with you again, especially considering such good news both for Democrats and the LGBTQ community in this past election.

Roem: It was quite a win for Virginia and for the community, no doubt. All nine of the LGBTQ Victory Fund candidates won their races. And then, of course, Delegate Scott being unanimously elected speaker of the house was just the icing on the cake.

Outlife757: That in and of itself is incredible: the first Black speaker in the Virginia House of Delegates’ history.

Roem: Yes, all an amazing step forward. But when you get into the House of Delegates, I’m sure you’re aware that that other members from both parties are not out. I hope, that with the contingent of nine, what we’re able to do is tell some of the closeted members that within the body you serve, yeah, you have a home. We are here for you.

Outlife757: You set that benchmark and are the pioneer. How much education did it take on your part with your fellow delegates especially on the Republican side, where they open to discussion?

Roem: In general, most of the members to my face, were not actively transphobic toward me. And for my first four years in office, they pretty much stopped filing explicitly anti-LGBTQ bills after Bob Marshall. The self-described chief homophobe of Virginia who had been in office for 26 years over 13 terms was just voted out. Then they got the majority back in the House of Delegates with a Republican governor and it turned out the transphobia and homophobia had never gone away.

Outlife757: I think your [30th] district is representative of other suburban districts around Richmond and Hampton Roads. But I do know there are suburbs of Hampton Roads that were redistricted as part of the 2021 measure that are 100% purple, and that’s where the action took place.

Roem: Let’s talk about one of those purple districts in your neck of the woods. Michael Fagan’s defeat of Karen Greenhalgh [Virginia Beach] was the author of the anti-trans athletes bill in 2023. I personally led the opposition to her bill on the House floor. The Republicans put that forward knowing it was going to die in the Senate, but they needed ammunition to run negative ads against the trans community. Well, it turns out every single house Democrat who ran for re-election this year won, and all of us voted no on her bill. This was not the political panacea that they thought it was going to be. The fact of the matter is, they based their campaign on transphobia. And they lost full stop.

Outlife757: Where do you think Youngkin’s DOE Model Policies will end up, especially now?

Roem: Leave it to the court, because that’s where we’re heading. I don’t know who’s going to be the one who files a lawsuit, but I will still assert that he [Youngkin] broke the law. One of the tenets of his policy is that students are to use the bathroom that corresponds with the sex assigned at birth. Well, that violates the Federal court’s ruling in Grim vs. Gloucester County School Board which was in favor of Gavin Grimm.

Outlife757: All the media buzz is about how Virginia is the bellwether for what’s going to happen next year. Is that an accurate representation of where we could go in 2024? Or are we still worried about Trump being the front runner?

Roem: So, I think where we’re at is going into a second Trump versus Biden election. But I will say this about it: when I was knocking doors in Heritage Hunt, a very Republican gated community that I lost by almost 16 points my first of election, I can’t tell you how many times I met people who don’t bring up Donald Trump at all. I also lost count of the number of people who voluntarily told me, “I used to be a Republican for blank number of years until Donald Trump.” I think there’s much more of that sentiment in the country than we know, and when the time comes, those voters will make another choice.

Danica’s autobiography Burn The Page is available from Viking Books.

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