MANASSAS PARK – Virginia state Del. Danica Roem (D-Manassas) launched her 2021 re-election campaign Tuesday, promising to continue the work she’s started. Roem in 2018 became the first openly transgender person seated in any state legislature in the U.S.
Roem said she has pushed for LGBTQ equality, helped pass Medicaid expansion in Virginia, and led efforts to provide school meals for thousands of kids across the state since she took office. She said she is running for her third term in order to continue pushing for progressive change in her state.
“I’ve been working to make Virginia a more inclusive commonwealth since my first campaign,” she said in an interview. “And we’ve got a lot to show for it but we still have a lot of work to do. That’s what my campaign is going to be about—continuing that work.”
Democrats in 2019 took the majority in both houses of the General Assembly for the first time in decades. This allowed the party to pass progressive reforms like the Virginia Values Act, which added sexual orientation and gender identity to the state’s non-discrimination protections.
One of Roem’s focuses through her first and second term was increasing access to food for children through Virginia’s schools. When the pandemic hit in March, she fought, and ultimately won, a battle to change a USDA policy that required students to come in-person to pick up free meals during school closures, arguing that the rule was endangering children with compromised immune systems. Roem has also sponsored legislation to make free and reduced-priced lunches and breakfasts more accessible for students.
“My goal going forward is really making sure we are addressing systemic inequality and systemic barriers to access when it comes to food security throughout Virginia,” she said. “I’m a 36-year-old Italian stepmom—I want to feed everyone. I want to continue to prioritize giving food to those who need it.”
Roem also campaigned on Medicaid expansion in 2017 and in May 2018, the legislation passed, allowing more than 400,000 Virginians to get healthcare through Medicaid. Now for her re-election campaign, she said she is going to continue to advocate for expanded healthcare options. Roem also spearheaded legislation to require insurance companies to cover essential procedures for trans patients.
She has been able to be so productive in office, she said, because of her ability to work with other delegates in a bipartisan manner. But to critics who accuse her of over-compromising, she said they just need to look at the policies she’s put in place during her tenure in office.
“You don’t carry a transgender health bill through if you’re letting the conservatives run rampant,” she said with a small laugh. “You don’t have to compromise your integrity and your values to work with someone of a different party on some stuff because odds are, you can probably find some common ground.”
On a national scale, Roem has led and inspired a wave of other trans candidates to run for public office. In the 2020 elections, eight openly trans and gender non-conforming candidates were either elected or re-elected to their state legislatures.
But in a country that often seems more divided than ever, Roem said she focuses on doing her job to serve her community.
“I’m a proud Democrat and I represent all of my constituents, regardless of whether or not they voted for me,” she said. “Every time I do my job well, people can say, ‘My delegate is transgender and they’re really good at their job.’ Not ‘but’—‘and’. I don’t have to defend who I am to anyone. I acknowledge who I am and I’m good at my job.”
However, Roem said that vicious transphobic attacks by her political opponents have followed her since she announced her first campaign. When she took office, Republicans ended a 400-year tradition of referring to each other as “gentlemen” and “gentlewomen” and changed it to address themselves as only “delegates” to avoid acknowledging Roem’s gender.
One memorable moment, Roem said, was when members of the Westboro Baptist Church staged protests outside of the capitol building in March 2019. The church members were met by a crowd of counter-protesters, armed with kazoos to drown out the church’s hate.
After the protest, Roem raised more than $34,000, using the hashtag #westborobackfire to spread her message around social media.
“You turn it into money, and you turn it into votes,” she said, referring to the hate. “I’ve been dealing with bigoted bullshit for almost four years now. If you’re a trans candidate running for office in any other state, look at what we’ve done. Flip the script on their bigotry, make it work for you.”
Following President-elect Joe Biden’s victory in last week’s election, Roem said she is hopeful the nation is moving in the right direction to begin healing.
“We are at the very least going to stop the bleeding,” she said of Biden taking office. “What’s the first rule of getting out of a hole? Stop digging. On Jan. 20, we are no longer going to be digging.”