Will Transgendered Dem Make Political History in Virginia House Race?

As far as Virginia Democrat, journalist, and transgendered woman Danica Roem is concerned, the Nov. 7 state House election that pits her against Del. Bob Marshall (R) is about “local issues.”

“The top issue we face in the 13th District is fixing Route 28 so morning rush hour isn't unbearable. It was awful in 1992 and it's awful today. It's time to change it,” Roem wrote on her website.

But the race between Marshall and Roem is about more than a road or even that Roem’s a Democrat. If she wins, Roem will become the first openly transgendered state legislator elected in the United States.

Marshall told American Family Radio host Sandy Rios the election is about more than Danica’s desire to do well for her constituents.

"Danica clearly is out here doing this for making a marker in the national character that you can engage in this behavior – which clearly goes against the laws of nature and nature's God – and hold public office to make decisions on behalf of the common good," Marshall said. "That is what is kind of at stake here.”

Marshall failed to win approval for legislation that would have barred people from choosing a bathroom that matched their gender choice unless they had sex reassignment therapy, surgery or had a gender revision on their birth certificate.

“If someone goes through the process of changing their sex — I don’t think it’s very smart because such people have very high rates of self-harm. That’s documented, not from me,” Marshall told the Washington Post. “But if they go through that, fine. Let them use that bathroom.”

While she lists issues like jobs, school safety, teacher pay and, of course, fixing Route 28 on her issues page, Roem does make it clear that she supports adding sexual orientation and gender identity to District 13’s local school system's nondiscrimination policy.

“When we protect our most vulnerable students, we protect all of our students (and our teachers too),” Roem wrote.

“As a mom, I want to do everything I can to protect children from harm,” she added. “As a transgender woman, I know the threats our students face in school and I know how terrifying it can be to just be perceived as LGBTQ, let alone summon the courage to live openly, honestly and authentically.”

And she certainly does shy away from the fact that she was a man when she started working for the Gainesville Times in 2006 and then for the Prince William Times when the Times expanded.

“I started transitioning while working at the newspaper in 2012, began hormone replacement therapy Dec. 3, 2013, changed my name, gender and byline in 2015 and no one cared. It was great,” she wrote. “I could just keep doing my job.”

Roem told NPR she can’t understand why her sex change has become a campaign issue.

“Why is it ever OK for an elected delegate to be talking about their constituent's surgical history on the radio?" Roem asked. "That's messed up.”

Roem told NBC News that Marshall had also been purposely using the pronoun “he” instead of “she” when discussing her candidacy.

“He has been misgendering me for months,” Roem said.

The campaign, nearing its end, has become about more than Roem’s sex change or pronouns.

Marshall’s campaign released an ad on Facebook in October, “Bad Judgment,” which not only highlights Roem’s sex change but also accused her of “lewd” and “shocking” behavior.

“Danica has no record of public service,” the ad’s narrator claims, “but does have a record of bad judgment. From a shocking bathroom interview, to lewd interviews.”

Along with Roem performing with a heavy-metal band in a music video produced five years before her sex change surgery, the video shows a man leaving a bathroom.

John Findlay, the executive director of the Virginia Republican Party, told the Washington Post the ad made it clear that Roem was “featured in a video where it is clearly implied she performed group oral sex in a public restroom.”

“This is a comedy video nobody is going to take seriously, in the same way we don’t take seriously a ‘spit take’ on The Daily Show,” Roem said. “For them to accuse me of lewd behavior is the height of hypocrisy. . . . This is manufactured outrage.”

Olusoji Akomolafe, chairman of the political science department at Norfolk State University, told the Daily Press Democrats always have a tough time translating emotions over issues like the rights of transgendered people into votes.

He doesn’t think many Democrats are going to be able to unseat incumbent GOPers in November.

“Major bread and butter issues like the infrastructure and tax reform, which ironically were rolled out at the same time as two major social issues, Charlottesville and the NFL saga, were trending, got drowned out and dominated by the latter,” Akomolafe said.

So, Roem might be making a mistake by trying to bring her campaign back to Route 28 while playing defense on the issue of her sex change.

And there’s also the fact that Marshall has had a hold on the seat for a quarter-century. Stephen Farnsworth, a political science professor, told Mother Jones that has given the Republican a lot of traction.

“[Marshall has] had a number of Democratic challengers over the year,” Farnsworth said, “and has managed to win despite having a target on his back election cycle after election cycle.”