Saturday 17 August 2019

Transgender woman makes history by winning Virginia House seat

Danica Roem, centre, is greeted by supporters as she prepares to give her victory speech (AP)
Danica Roem, centre, is greeted by supporters as she prepares to give her victory speech (AP)

A transgender candidate has defeated an incumbent Virginia Republican delegate who sponsored a bill that would have restricted which toilets she could use.

Democrat Danica Roem, a former journalist, is set to make history as the first openly transgender person elected and seated in a state legislature in the United States.

She unseated Republican delegate Bob Marshall, one of the state's longest serving and most socially conservative representatives.

The race was one of the year's most high profile, drawing international attention and big money to the northern Virginia House of Delegates district outside the US capital.

Democratic House Caucus Chair Charniele Herring said: "It's historic. It sends a message to politicians everywhere that the politics of bigotry is over."

Ms Roem will be the first transgender member of the House of Delegates and will become the first out transgender person to win and serve in a state legislature, according to the Victory Fund, a political action committee that works to get openly LGBTQ people elected and has supported Ms Roem.

Ms Roem had openly discussed her gender identity during her campaign, but it was far from her focus. Instead, she campaigned on jobs, schools and, with particular fervour, northern Virginia's traffic congestion.

She thanked her grass-roots supporters, saying they made it possible for her to run without relying on campaign contributions from corporations.

Ms Roem added she has refused to accept money from Dominion Energy, which she says has too much influence over politicians.

"We have got to change the culture in Richmond," she said in a TV interview.

Ms Roem started pursuing therapy to begin her gender transition when she was 28, and said during the campaign that politics should be inclusive of people from all backgrounds.

She said: "No matter what you look like, where you come from, how you worship or who you love, if you have good public policy ideas, if you're qualified for office, you have every right to bring your ideas to the table."

She also argued that Mr Marshall, who has served in the House since 1992, spent too much time on social policy.

A lightning rod for controversy, Mr Marshall often drew the ire of even his own party.

In addition to this year's so-called bathroom bill, Mr Marshall was also the author of a now-void constitutional amendment that defined marriage as between one man and one woman, and sponsored a bill banning gay people from openly serving in the Virginia National Guard.

On the campaign trail, Mr Marshall and other Republicans repeatedly misidentified Ms Roem's gender.

In a statement posted on his Facebook page, Mr Marshall said: "For 26 years I've been proud to fight for you, and fight for our future. Though we all wish tonight would have turned out differently, I am deeply grateful for your support and effort over the years."

Ms Roem, who sings in a heavy metal band in her spare time, said she learned to listen to different perspectives and digest complicated policy as a reporter for the Gainesville Times and Prince William Times - skills she said she would bring to bear as a delegate.

Ms Roem was not the only transgender candidate elected Tuesday. Tyler Titus, who is openly transgender, won a seat on a western Pennsylvania school board, The Erie Times-News reported.

Aisha C Moodie-Mills, president and CEO of Victory Fund, said that 2017 "will be remembered as the year of the trans candidate - and Danica's heroic run for office the centrepiece of that national movement".


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