Danica Roem: From Journalist and Punk Rocker to State Lawmaker
History-making trans candidate knew the issues because she’d reported on them for 10 years.
By Sarah Rankin and Ben Finley
MANASSAS, Va. — The transgender woman who unseated one of Virginia’s longest-serving and most socially conservative lawmakers for a spot in history is a former journalist with a reputation for producing hard-hitting but fair stories.
Danica Roem is also known for her unwavering, almost obsessive focus on fixing a congested, critical commuter road in her northern Virginia district. She also sings in a metal band.
Roem, a Democrat, defeated Republican Del. Bob Marshall, a culture warrior whose commitment to the cause often led to clashes with his own party’s leadership. Roem will become the only out transgender state legislator in the U.S. and the first to both get elected and take office openly, according to the Victory Fund, a political action committee that works to get openly LGBTQ people elected.
Her national profile skyrocketed after her win, but she brushed off the significance in an interview Wednesday with The Associated Press, circling back yet again to the campaign issue she’s driven home in one interview after another.
“It’s going to be really historic when a trans woman helps fix Route 28,” a sarcastic, exhausted Roem said, her cellphone ringing off the hook with congratulatory calls and interview requests.
Roem will be one of at least 10 Democratic women joining the ranks of the House after an extraordinarily successful election night for the party. Democrats swept all three statewide races and nearly wiped out Republicans’ overwhelming majority in the House. They picked up 14 of the 17 seats they would need to retake the chamber, with a handful of races that will decide control too close to call.
That group of women will include the state’s first Latina delegates and its first female Asian-American.
“The General Assembly will truly look more like this state than ever before,” said Julie Copeland, executive director of Emerge Virginia, which helps prepare Democratic women to run for office.
Copeland said she was struck by Roem’s knowledge of the issues, energy and dedication.
“She knocked every door,” Copeland said. “I bet she talked to every person who voted for her.”
Roem graduated from St. Bonaventure University in New York and spent about a decade working for the Prince William Times and the Gainesville Times, both local newspapers in Virginia. Working as a reporter taught her how to listen and understand people and complicated issues, she has said.
Kari Pugh, executive editor of The Fauquier Times, Prince William Times and Gainesville Times, didn’t supervise Roem but knew of her reputation. She said Roem knows the issues in the Manassas area better than “just about anyone” because she grew up there and reported on the community for so long.
Don Shaw, who lost to Marshall in 2015 and recruited Roem to run, said she was already an “institution” in the area as a reporter.
“When she called you … you were going to answer her questions or she was going to keep asking,” he said.
Roem started her gender transition about five years ago when she was 28 and began taking hormone replacement therapy in late 2013.
She told AP earlier this year that she quit her job as a journalist to focus on campaigning full time. She also said it was hard to find time with her metal band, Cab Ride Home.
Her opponent was a lightning rod for controversy, sponsoring a bill this year that would have restricted which bathrooms transgender people could use. He also authored a now-void constitutional amendment that defined marriage as between a man and woman, and sponsored a bill banning gay people from openly serving in the Virginia National Guard.
On the campaign trail, Marshall and other Republicans repeatedly misidentified Roem’s gender.
Since Marshall was first elected in 1991, the district of 80,000 people in the sprawling Washington suburbs has become more populous, diverse and left-leaning politically. In November, it was one of 17 Republican-controlled House districts Hillary Clinton won over Donald Trump in the presidential race.
Roem’s win was the most high profile of what the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBTQ civil rights organization, says were at least seven victories by transgender candidates Tuesday. Minneapolis elected Andrea Jenkins, a black transgender woman to its city council. Tyler Titus, who is openly transgender, won a seat on a western Pennsylvania school board.
“2017 will be remembered as the year of the trans candidate — and Danica’s heroic run for office the centerpiece of that national movement,” Victory Fund chief executive Aisha C. Moodie-Mills said in a statement.
At least two transgender people have been elected to state legislatures in the past, but Roem will be the first openly transgender person to campaign and be seated. One transgender woman was elected to the New Hampshire Legislature, but she resigned before the term started. And in Massachusetts, a transgender woman served in the Legislature but did not campaign as an openly transgender person. She came out while in office but didn’t win re-election.