Political Notebook: Virginia trans leader Roem campaigns in SF

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday July 5, 2023
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Virginia state Delegate Danica Roem is running for state Senate and will be in the Bay Area this weekend fundraising for her campaign. Photo: Courtesy the candidate
Virginia state Delegate Danica Roem is running for state Senate and will be in the Bay Area this weekend fundraising for her campaign. Photo: Courtesy the candidate

As she faces a tough election battle this year to become a senator in her home state, transgender Virginia Delegate Danica Roem will be in San Francisco this weekend to meet with local LGBTQ leaders and raise money for her campaign. It is her latest swing through the Bay Area in recent months as she prepares for the fall election.

Roem, 38, became the first out transgender state legislator in 2017 with her historic victory of a seat in the Virginia Legislature's lower chamber. Reelected two years later to represent part of northern Virginia, Roem defeated her Republican opponent in 2021 by 8.6%, a larger margin than her first campaign's margin of 7.8% in 2017 but less than her 2019 re-election campaign's margin of 12%.

Now she is seeking her state's open Senate District 30 seat in November against Republican Bill Woolf, 43, a straight married father of six children. The former police officer has the support of Virginia's GOP Governor Glenn Youngkin.

Their race has drawn national attention due to Democrats fighting to maintain their majority in the Virginia Senate and aiming to flip the House of Delegates from red to blue this year. Due to the party's control of the Senate, Democrats have been able to block Youngkin's efforts to rollback LGBTQ protections and block access to abortion.

The progressive group Sister District, which mobilizes Democrats and other left-leaning activists across the country to help support candidates in various races, has made Roem's Senate campaign one of its top priorities this year. In particular, its Bay Area chapters on the Peninsula and in San Francisco have been working on behalf of Roem since the start of the year.

"There's too much at stake to sit on the sidelines. We have the unique opportunity to flip the Virginia House of Delegates, expand our Democratic majority in the state senate and prevent a potential GOP trifecta in its tracks," the group's fundraising arm, the Sister District Project, noted in one email to its members in early June.

Speaking to the B.A.R. ahead of her flying out in mid-June for a fundraising event that the Sister District CA Peninsula chapter hosted, Roem said it has "been phenomenal" to receive support from the California groups. It is similar to how a Sister District chapter in New York provided assistance for her winning 2017 reelection campaign.

"They have really stepped up," said Roem, noting that, "what happens in one state legislature has consequences across the country, as we are seeing with abortion bans across the country."

In another example, Roem pointed out how Virginia lawmakers had adopted the tougher car emissions standards set by California, which has a special carve out within federal law to do so. Republicans in her state, noted Roem, attacked the decision to do so by disingenuously saying Virginia should be setting its own such standards.

"Virginia doesn't get to set its own laws under the federal rule on this. We get to adopt either the California or federal standards," explained Roem, who is pushing for additional remedies to address the impacts of climate change already occurring in her state. "Look, those of us who understand climate change is already here and already causing problems, we have to look at what is contributing to it. One thing is car emissions."

The aim is to help bring down the costs of electric vehicles so they are an affordable option for Virginians wanting to make the switch from gas-powered cars, said Roem.

"It is not going to prohibit used cars. I drive a 2004 Nissan Sentra, I get it," she said. "The goal here is to have enough competition in the EV market and enough supply in the EV market so car makers are able to bring the cost down."

Yet, if Republicans take control of both legislative chambers, they are likely to work with Youngkin to repeal the emissions standards that Democrats adopted, warned Roem. Other progressive policies could also be overturned, she added.

"Democrats have to hold the Senate to protect our gains on the environment," said Roem, "and to protect LGBTQ constituents, so they don't feel like they need to move to California to be protected in school, the workplace, or any other segment of society. Frankly, we have to win back our Democratic majority in the House of Delegates."

Trans youth

A key issue Roem has been fighting for several years now is policies around trans youth in the state's schools. She sits on an oversight panel that last year called out the proposed transphobic rules the state's education department had issued under Youngkin, with Roem noting they went against state and federal laws.

"This governor has shown no willingness to be kind toward his LGBTQ constituents. He tried unsuccessfully to have the department of education rewrite its standards for how we humanely treat trans kids in schools," said Roem. "It has been six months at this point since they appeared before the commission and still have not come up with new standards. They know their legal arguments absolutely collapsed; I undermined every single one of their arguments."

Because the state has a divided government, Democratic lawmakers like Roem have been able to block anti-LGBTQ bills from passing. Should Republicans control both chambers of the Legislature after the November election then Youngkin and GOP legislators will be able to adopt their anti-LGBTQ platform, warned Roem.

"Virginia should continue being a welcoming state so you can have success here because of who you are, not despite it," she said. "I am going to fight like hell for it."

To provide Roem an assist from the West Coast in doing so, Sister District Project SF has teamed up with the city's two main LGBTQ political groups, the Alice B. Toklas LGBTQ Democratic Club and the Harvey Milk LGBTQ Democratic Club, to co-host Roem's visit this week to the city. They have also partnered with the Bay Area Coalition, Swing Left San Francisco, and the national LGBTQ+ Victory Fund to co-sponsor a kickoff party for Roem from 7 to 9 p.m. Friday, July 7, at the gay-owned Manny's cafe and event space at 3092 16th Street in the Mission district.

Roem is also scheduled to join Sister District Project co-founder, Gaby Goldstein, for a bar-side chat fundraiser from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, July 8, at LGBTQ nightclub Oasis at 298 11th Street in San Francisco's South of Market neighborhood.

"I know I can win this seat," Roem told the B.A.R. "I need the support of Democrats in the 30th District, from across the commonwealth and country to get over the finish line. I know with that support, we will do what we need to do to win this race."

Roem is just the latest out-of-town transgender lawmaker to be feted by local LGBTQ Democratic groups. Montana Representative Zooey Zephyr, the first trans state legislator in her state, was the keynote speaker at the Milk club's 47th annual Gayla last month, while Palm Springs City Councilmember Lisa Middleton, the first trans person to win a non-judicial elected office in California, was a featured speaker at Alice's annual Pride breakfast.

Middleton is now one of two trans candidates aiming to be the first elected to the Golden State's Legislature. She is running for an open state Senate seat spanning Riverside and San Bernardino counties, while Justine Gonzalez is seeking an open Assembly seat in Los Angeles County.

Roem told the B.A.R. that she has a policy of not endorsing Democratic candidates until after the primary for their race is held. Nonetheless, she said it is important to see more trans people elected to their state legislatures.

"Absolutely it is important, at a time when the Republican Party is filing anti-trans bills after anti-trans bills, that a trans legislator be present in the room and fight back against these bills," said Roem, who previously worked as a journalist before entering elected office.

As for Roem, she has no ambitions to seek higher office apart from serving in her state Senate. When she spoke to the B.A.R. last month, Roem did mention she hoped that trans Delaware state Senator Sarah McBride would run for her state's open at-large congressional seat since the incumbent is running for an open U.S. Senate seat next year. (McBride launched her campaign to become the first trans person to serve in Congress June 26, the Monday after Pride Sunday last month.)

"I don't have congressional aspirations or statewide aspirations. The joke I make is I don't have the prerequisite self-loathing to put myself through it," said Roem. "Sarah McBride is on her way to being the first trans member of Congress. I hope she does run; she would be phenomenal."

To learn more about Roem and her platform, visit her campaign website.

Updated 7/6/23 to correct that Roem received help from the Sister District New York chapter for her first race in 2017 and to correct her winning margin in her 2021 race, which had been initially reported as being less than 2 points in a Bay Area Reporter story posted the day after the election.

Political Notes, the notebook's online companion, will return Monday, July 10.

Got a tip on LGBTQ politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 829-8836 or e-mail [email protected]

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