Democrat Danica Roem defeated an anti-LGBT Republican incumbent in a race for a seat in the Virginia General Assembly on Tuesday night, putting the 32-year-old journalist on track to make history as the first out transgender person to be elected and get seated in a state legislature in the United States.
Roem won 54% of the vote against Del. Bob Marshall, who has served 13 terms and sponsored a raft of bills catered to the religious right. Among them was the state’s law banning same-same sex couples from marrying; he later introduced a bill to bar transgender people from using restrooms that match their gender identity in government facilities.
Marshall and his supporters had tried to leverage Roem’s gender identity in the race. On a conservative radio show in September, Marshall said Roem “clearly is a male,” calling her “he” and saying her behavior “goes against the laws of nature and nature's God.”
Roem brushed off the jabs to focus on bread-and butter issues, particularly easing traffic between the suburban 13th District of Virginia into Washington DC. She did, though, run a TV spot that addressed being trans head-on. “I’m dealing with it,” she told BuzzFeed News in October. “I’m a big girl — I can take care of myself.”
Roem found financial backing from the Democratic Party, LGBT groups, and the Breakthrough Fund — a political action committee run by transgender activists and tailored specifically to elect transgender people to office. It launched with $60,000 to spend in four races, including Roem’s, according to the group’s co-chair, Hayden Mora.
"This is a victory for Danica and all transgender Americans," Mora told BuzzFeed News Tuesday night. "Hate groups did what they always do — they attempted to frighten and distract voters. But this time, they met a candidate who would not give up and, for the first time in history, a national trans PAC with the faith, resolve, savvy and resources to stand with her.”
This was Roem's commercial.
Aisha C. Moodie-Mills, who leads the pro-LGBT election group Victory Fund, added in a statement that the results were “sending a powerful message to anti-trans legislators all across the nation...Danica’s victory is a historic milestone in our continued march toward equality.”
Roem is not the first out transgender candidate to win a state legislative race, nor would she be the first transgender person to serve in that role — but rather, she would be first to both run as an out transgender candidate and actually serve in a state legislative office. In 2012, Stacie Laughton, a transgender woman, won a legislative race in New Hampshire, but she never served, resigning amid controversy around her criminal record. Twenty years prior, Althea Garrison won a seat in the Massachusetts House of Representatives, but she was not out during her campaign. After revelations that she was transgender, she was not reelected.
Outside conservative groups backing Marshall tried to raise fears about Roem. An automated phone call to voters from the American Principles Project said Roem wants to “allow boys to play on girls’ sports teams and compete in girls’ leagues,” the Washington Post reported.
Roem and Marshall did not immediately respond to requests to comment from BuzzFeed News.