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Roem Wows SF LGBT Crowd

by Cynthia Laird

Virginia Delegate-elect Danica Roem (D), gave a thumbs up during a reception Sunday, December 10 at Beaux in the Castro as she was greeted by San Francisco Supervisor Jeff Sheehy, left, and Assemblyman David Chiu (D-San Francisco).
Virginia Delegate-elect Danica Roem (D), gave a thumbs up during a reception Sunday, December 10 at Beaux in the Castro as she was greeted by San Francisco Supervisor Jeff Sheehy, left, and Assemblyman David Chiu (D-San Francisco).  (Source:Rick Gerharter)

Danica Roem, the transgender woman who made history last month when she defeated an anti-LGBT state lawmaker in her race for a seat in the Virginia House of Delegates, received an exuberant welcome from community leaders during her first visit to San Francisco.

At a reception and campaign fundraiser at Beaux in the Castro, Sunday, December 10, Roem, wearing her trademark rainbow scarf, patiently posed for selfies with well-wishers and talked about the historic nature of her victory.

In the November 7 election, Roem became the first out transgender person to win and serve in a state legislature and the only out transgender state legislator in the U.S.

During a brief interview with the Bay Area Reporter, Roem said she will be sworn in January 10 and looks forward to working with her legislative colleagues on a variety of issues.

"I want to support hate crimes and health care issues," Roem said.

She also plans to tackle infrastructure problems, which were a signature of her campaign. A former journalist, Roem said that she will fight to pass freedom of information request legislation and a shield law for journalists in the commonwealth, which does not have such protections. Shield laws protect reporters' privilege, which includes such things as the right to refuse to testify as to sources of information.

Roem, 33, a Democrat, was a political novice when she entered the race for the 13th Delegate District, which includes Prince George County and Manassas Park City. The longtime incumbent, Delegate Bob Marshall (R), waged a bitter fight and tried to make the race about Roem's trans identity, including misgendering her. Campaign mail and TV ads attacked Roem.

Those attacks were one of a "whole list" of things that happened during the campaign that made Roem realize she would win the race, she said.

"We decided early on that when hit with a negative, I'd flip the script," Roem said during her remarks, adding that young trans children living in the district "deserve representation, too."

The House of Delegates has made one change in the wake of Roem's impending arrival at the Statehouse. It was recently reported that lawmakers would be addressed with the gender-neutral title "delegate" instead of "gentlelady" or "gentleman."

"It was the right thing for the wrong reason," Roem told the B.A.R., referring to stories that said the change was made so that conservative lawmakers wouldn't have to refer to Roem as a woman.

Talking to the crowd, Roem encouraged people who are interested in public service to run for office, saying that the community should "support people at the local level," but that candidates must be prepared to do the nitty-gritty work.

"I never asked a volunteer to do something that I wouldn't do," Roem said, describing knocking on doors after dark.

Tiffany Woods, a trans woman who works in the East Bay, helped organize the Castro fundraiser at the behest of Emerge California, which works to elect Democratic women and whose program Woods completed. Roem had delivered a keynote address at the group's San Francisco event the night before.

"We wanted to do an LGBT reception," Woods explained, where people could meet Roem. Having a small-dollar event that was accessible to people was also important, she said.

Veronika Fimbres, a trans woman who's a Green Party candidate for California governor, was thrilled to meet Roem.

"I supported her from afar," Fimbres said, adding that she kept up with Roem's campaign via social media. "I love her and am so proud that she won.

"I love to support my youth," Fimbres, 67, said. "They're the new voices of tomorrow."

With Roem's win, combined with several other trans candidates who were successful in their races last month, such as Lisa Middleton on the Palm Springs City Council, Fimbres said that the trans community is "now in a historical moment."

Martin Rawlings-Fein is one of two trans candidates running for San Francisco school board next year. A husband and parent to two kids in public schools, Rawlings-Fein said that Roem's victory has inspired him.

"She's an amazing personality," he said, adding that a key to her success was her focus on issues important to voters in her district.

Gay Oakland bar owner Sean Sullivan said that he and Roem both attended the same college, Saint Bonaventure University in New York, though a decade apart.

"I'm very proud an out person from my university beat this 'homophobe in chief,' as he called himself," Sullivan said, referring to Marshall. "I'm super happy to support her here, and into the future."

Steve Adams, a gay man who's on the San Francisco Small Business Commission, called Roem "a pioneer," along with Middleton and Alameda County Superior Court Judge Victoria Kolakowski, a transgender woman who became the first elected trial judge in 2010.

"Vicky was the first judge, Lisa's on the City Council, and Danica's at the state level," Adams said. "It's like I've always learned in business: one plus one equals two."

Kolakowski said she was proud of Roem's accomplishment.

"Her election was something that many people, not only transgender folk, needed to see in these divisive times. She responded to hateful speech with grace and intelligence, going high when others went low," Kolakowski said.

Theresa Sparks, who recently stepped down as senior adviser on trans issues to San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, said Roem's victory marked "the political ascendance of the trans community." [Lee died suddenly Tuesday morning, see related story.]

Sparks, a trans woman who once ran for supervisor, praised this next generation of trans leaders.


Welcome from Officials

Roem was welcomed by elected officials, including gay District 8 Supervisor Jeff Sheehy, gay City College of San Francisco trustee Rafael Mandelman (who's running against Sheehy next year), and state Assemblyman David Chiu (D-San Francisco). She received proclamations from the mayor's office, the Board of Supervisors, and the state Legislature.

"I know a fellow policy geek," Chiu said. "She campaigned to fix Route 28, and, as a step-mom, wants to figure out how to pay teachers more."

Roem told the crowd that she won with 12,077 votes, and that they had an idea they'd be successful once numbers started coming in.

"Our field numbers were off the charts," she said. "We had hundreds of volunteers knocking on doors."

She credited her campaign team, volunteers, and supporters across the country for her win.

"No one runs on their own. It's not just enough to shout your way to office - unless you're in the White House," she quipped, referring to President Donald Trump.

Roem is planning to continue fighting for equal rights, and encouraged people to be themselves.

"Don't ever, ever, ever, ever let someone tell you you're someone you're not," she said.


Full disclosure: Victoria Kolakowski is the wife of Cynthia Laird.

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