by Elizabeth Lanning ‘20
On the night of November 7, 2017, Danica Roem became the first openly transgender person elected to state legislature in the United States. Her election is a monumental event, and will likely be known as a landmark achievement for the LGBT+ community.
Roem’s opponent, the 13- term incumbent Robert Marshall, had previously dubbed himself “Virginia’s chief homophobe,” and has lived up to his self-imposed title. Marshall has introduced and sponsored numerous pieces of legislature which would regulate the public bathrooms that transgender people could use and is a staunch opponent of LGBT+ rights activists.
Many in the LGBT+ community agree that Roem’s success is one of the most significant accomplishments for transgender women since Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera of the 1969 Stonewall Riots, the gateway into LGBT+ pride.
A significant step that both Johnson and Rivera, alongside Roem, have made, aside from their championing for LGBT+ rights, is their nonchalant attitudes in regards to their identities. “I’m tired of living with labels,” Rivera wrote in her 2002 essay, “Queens In Exile, The Forgotten Ones.” “I just want to be who I am. I am Sylvia Rivera. Ray Rivera left home at the age of 10 to become Sylvia. And that’s who I am.”
Similarly, Roem didn’t focus on her identity as a transgender woman during the campaign. As Marshall continuously misgendered Roem and attacked her status as a woman during the campaign, Roem gracefully ignored his attacks and focused on her constituents.
Roem’s chief campaign issue was the traffic and congestion in her district, making sure to focus on local issues, as opposed to running solely on her gender identity. She didn’t hide her gender and was very open about her transition, but she didn’t make it her primary focus either, even as media and journalists badgered her about it.
On November 19, pop star Demi Lovato reached out to now delegate-elect Roem and invited her to speak against bullying as her date to the American Music Awards. Lovato said she was “just completely inspired” by Roem’s story, and feels that they’ve “been through some of the same things” in regards to bullying and discrimination. Roem said that she too was inspired by Lovato’s advocacy, and was honored to join her to help make America’s schools more inclusive- a topic which is very important to me.
The entire LGBT+ community, including myself, is ecstatic over Roem’s election. Her accomplishment has opened up a gateway to new opportunities for the community, and the way she handled herself during the campaign did an excellent job of showcasing the chief issue we’ve fought so hard for: that our identities aren’t weird, wrong, or out of the ordinary, and we shouldn’t be treated any differently because of them. I am grateful to Roem for her advocacy for LGBT+ people, and her achievement isn’t only a landmark for transgender women, but for all LGBT+ people in America.