First transgender state lawmaker says LGBT+ people ‘have to care’ about politics

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Danica Roem sits in her campaign office on September 22, 2017, in Manassas, Virginia.  (AFP via Getty Images)
Danica Roem sits in her campaign office on September 22, 2017, in Manassas, Virginia. (AFP via Getty Images)

The first state lawmaker who identifies as transgender, Virginia Delegate Danica Roem, has said that members of the LGBT+ community have to care about politics.

“When you are an LGBTQ person, you have to care,” she told CNN.

“They were willing to look at me and they go, ‘Yeah, we know she's trans and she'll do a great job,’” Ms Roem said of her constituents who elected her in 2017. She was sworn in on 10 January 2018.

“I never say ‘trans but,’ always ‘trans and.’ Because it’s like, no, I don’t hide who I am. People know exactly who I am here,” she told the outlet.

She represents the Manassas area in northern Virginia where she grew up. She said her success is due to her strong knowledge of local issues.

“When I was asked on election night, ‘Hey, what does this mean?’ It was just like, well, it means that a trans woman is going to finally work on fixing Route 28,” she added.

Despite being a state lawmaker, her trail-blazing candidacy has given her a spot on the national stage. She knows how visible she is and that she has a role in changing the conversation on a countrywide basis.

“What we learned from the marriage equality fights,” is that “if you know a gay person in your life and you see just that person, just being a person, that you [are] far less likely to want to restrict their civil rights,” she said.

Ms Roem acknowledges that for many people in her life, she may be the only transgender person they know, since according to a Gallup poll released earlier this year, only 0.6 per cent of Americans identify as transgender.

“If you know a trans person, you’re much more likely to support our civil rights. But because there are fewer of us, it makes it a harder conversation,” she said.

She was a local journalist in the community for nine years before she ran for the seat.

“What person is going to be more qualified to represent their community than a lifelong resident of that community who spent their career actually covering the public policy issues of the community?” she added.

She became personally invested in politics in 2003 when then-President George W Bush wanted to limit marriage to straight people.

“I would read the newspaper, I would read USA Today, New York Times,” she says. “I would read those every single day, and then I would go online and I would read about politics, two hours a day, seven days a week, every day for years.”

Ms Roem was 14 years old when Matthew Shephard was killed in Wyoming in 1998 because he was gay.

“I knew damn well who I was at that point, and I was too scared to tell anyone. And then when you see a young gay man in Wyoming being pistol-whipped, bound to a fence post, and left to die in the freezing cold ... When you see that play out, it’s the late nineties and you’re in the South and you go, ‘what’s happening in Wyoming is not far fetched from what could be happening in Virginia’,” Ms Roem told CNN.

Scared for her safety, lack of legal protections, and worried about the reactions of others, she waited a further 14 years before she decided to transition.

“I was at a point at age 28 where I did not want to go into my thirties living a lie. I had pretended to be someone else my entire life by this point. I had known who I was since I was 10 years old,” she said.

The Human Rights Campaign said in May that 2021 was the “worst year in recent history for LGBTQ state legislative attacks”. Until that point, more than 250 anti-LGBT+ bills had been introduced on the state level, and 17 had been signed into law.

“When you are an LGBTQ person in the United States, regardless of whether you care about politics, politics cares about you,” Ms Roem said.

“If you’re not involved, if you are not your best advocate, you’re asking someone else to fill that void. Some of the people who will try to step up to fill that void are going to be political charlatans who have no interest in preserving your best interest,” she added.

“You can’t count on other people to be your best advocate. You have to step up.”

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