If elected to the Virginia House of Delegates, Danica Roem would be the first openly transgender state representative in the United States. The 32-year-old Manassas native won a four-way Democratic primary on a platform of transportation, economic development, education, and inclusion, and is now running for Virginia’s 13th District against 11-term Republican incumbent Delegate Bob Marshall, who is known for having proposed earlier this year a bill to restrict transgender people’s public bathroom use.
The Prospect spoke to Roem over the phone about her campaign. The conversation has been edited and condensed.
Ira Berkley: What are you most focused on in your campaign?
Danica Roem: We have to focus on fixing our existing infrastructure first. [Delegate Marshall] is more concerned with how I as a transgender person go to the bathroom versus how his constituents get to work. Transgender people actually have public policy ideas that are applicable, that make sense, that would make good public policy, just like anyone else. If you have good public policy ideas, you have a right as an American to bring those ideas to the table. I’m out to prove that yes, transgender people are just as capable of fully funding transportation, taking care of land use issues, taking care of education, taking care of economic development as anyone else. I’m going to be focused on transportation, economic development, education, health care, quality-of-life stuff, while not being afraid to champion nondiscrimination policies.
What was it like growing up in Manassas, Virginia, and what shaped your politics?
I knew I was transgender from the time I was in fifth grade. So, growing up as a closet case in the 1990s was not easy. I came out to one person before college, and only said I was bi. I used sexuality as a stepping stone to get to gender identity, because the homophobic slurs that would be thrown around from my childhood on were severe, and I know what it's like to be singled out for the perception of being gay, let alone the reality of being transgender. Any chance I had for feminine expression I had to do in the privacy of my own room because I was too afraid to step out of my house.
In the 2004 presidential campaign, George W. Bush was floating the idea of supporting a constitutional amendment to ban marriage equality. That was a pivotal moment for me, because by that point I was in my sophomore year of college, I had come out to a lot of my female friends in regards to sexuality, and to some in regards to [being] transgender. But to see the president use the Constitution as a wedge to divide LGBTQ people from their neighbors spurred my interest in politics.
[Barack Obama’s] presidency was absolutely transformative in every sense of the word. He is the first president in my life who looked at LGBTQ people and said, “You are equal and contributing members of society and no one should discriminate against you.” He was the first president who was completely affirming of transgender people. Compare his demeanor to the demeanor of President Trump—it’s night and day. We have someone who has demonstrated that he’s not fit to lead. To me, all Trump’s election showed me is that there is literally nothing in my background to disqualify me for office.
How did Marshall’s history of anti-LGBT remarks and policies factor into your decision to run? How do you feel about the distinction of being, if elected, the first openly transgender state legislator in the United States?
All it means [is] that a transgender person would have the opportunity to finally fix [state] Route 28! But I also understand it from a much broader sense. I’ve talked to a lot of LGBTQ constituents within the district who very actively support my campaign and who see someone willing to champion things that they believe in.
I was deeply unsatisfied with [Marshall’s] constituent service and the fact that he has singled out and stigmatized his own constituents over and over again. After 25 years of being his constituent, I was fed up, and it was time to do something about it. The Trump campaign cemented it. Either we just complain on our computers, or we stand up and do something.