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Virginia Del. Danica Roem has been elected as the first out transgender state senator in the South, winning a competitive, multimillion-dollar race in Northern Virginia that some advocates saw as the most critical election for LGBTQ+ people in the state in recent memory.
Political groups that back LGBTQ+ candidates, including LPAC and the Victory Fund, are celebrating Roem’s win as evidence of Virginia voters rejecting the transphobic and homophobic rhetoric that has grown within mainstream politics. Roem celebrated her win as proof that focusing on policies that affect whole communities, instead of discriminatory efforts targeting a few, yields the best results.
“The voters have shown they want a leader who will prioritize fixing roads, feeding kids, and protecting our land instead of stigmatizing trans kids or taking away your civil rights,” Roem said in a statement following her win. She previously told The 19th that her Republican opponent, Bill Woolf, had targeted her with roughly a dozen mailers, radio and TV ads focused on trans girls’ participation in youth sports. Those ads misgendered trans girls, referring to them as boys.
Roem’s historic win is a first for Virginia, the only state in the South with more protections for LGBTQ+ people than discriminatory policies. Her victory is significant for a region with such a large transgender population, the majority of which live in states that are passing laws to restrict their rights.
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More transgender adults and youth live in the South than in any other region, according to an analysis published last year by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law. Yet, in terms of policy, most of the South is an incredibly hostile place to be transgender in the United States.
In the past year, a wave of anti-LGBTQ+ and anti-trans bills were introduced across the country and signed into law at a volume and speed never seen before. Nearly every state in the South — except for Virginia and South Carolina — has signed gender-affirming care bans for minors into law, although many of those laws have been stalled in court. Every state in the South except for Georgia and Virginia has passed laws banning trans youth from playing school sports that align with their gender identity.
Those policies do not reflect what many people living in the South actually believe, said Charlotte Clymer, an LGBTQ+ activist, writer and LPAC board member.
“I think that there are a lot of folks in the South who are just tired. They live in gerrymandered congressional and state legislature districts. They are constantly shouted down by a very loud contingent of anti-LGBTQ, anti-choice, anti-Black constituency that seems to prioritize fear over policy ideas that help everybody,” she said.
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As a trans woman who grew up in Central Texas, Clymer is thankful to politicians like Roem who remind the community that there are many people in the South who support LGBTQ+ rights.
She remembers Central Texas being a fairly conservative place when she was growing up there in the ’90s. Many kids were in the closet and had to find solidarity with one another. She’s proud to be from the South because of those kinds of connections. She learned what it means to be part of a community in the South, she said.
“It’s just incredible to see a trans woman from the South become one of two openly trans state senators in the United States. I can’t believe I’m seeing this right now,” Clymer said. State Sen. Sarah McBride of Delaware, who is currently running for Congress, is the other out trans state senator in the country.
Allison Scott, director of impact & innovation at the Campaign for Southern Equality, ran for the city council last year in Asheville, North Carolina, and lost in the general election. Scott, a transgender woman, was influenced by Roem’s campaign.
“Representation matters, and it’s important to celebrate that Danica was elected to this office as an out transgender person,” Scott said in a statement. “I also yearn for the day when such elections will be noteworthy for their policies rather than the gender identity of the candidate.”
Roem’s win is part of Democrats’ sweep of the state legislature. Virginia Democrats maintained their Senate majority and took control of the House from Republicans — creating a brick wall against Republicans’ conservative agenda.
Clymer sees the win as a sign of how much bigger Roem’s future political career should grow.
“She’s going to focus on her state Senate seat, and I appreciate that, but I’m going to do my damnedest to try to convince her to run for governor of Virginia someday,” she said.