In a typical election year, a race for a seat in a state legislature wouldn’t be getting much attention. But 2017 isn’t a typical election year — and Danica Roem isn’t a typical politician.
Roem is a former journalist who’s attempting to turn the 13th District of Virginia’s House of Delegates to the Republican Party for the first time since 1992, when incumbent Bob Marshall took the seat following a redistricting of the Old Dominion State after the 1990 Census. With Virginia’s election taking place on Nov. 7, Roem believes she has a good shot to defeat Marshall in a district that includes parts of Prince William County and has been trending Democratic at the presidential level in recent years.
While such a win would be historic for the Democratic Party, a Roem win would make history in another way: she would become the first openly transgender person to serve in the Virginia House of Delegates. Althea Garrison became the first trans legislator in U.S. history in 1993 when she was elected to the Massachusetts State House in 1992 and later came out as transgender, but never has an openly transgender individual won an election in the United States.
Roem’s belief was proven correct, as she defeated Marshall by nine points with one precinct remaining to be counted, earning her the seat that Marshall has held since 1992.
Here are five things you need to know about Danica Roem.
1. She’ll Talk About Being Trans, But She’d Rather Not
From the moment she got into the race, Danica Roem knew that her gender would be a point of contention for her opponent. Bob Marshall has been a consistent opponent of LGBT rights in Virginia and introduced a bill in 2017 that would have made it a crime in Virginia for anyone to enter a bathroom that did not correspond to their biological sex. Marshall’s bill went nowhere, dying in committee, but it was an obvious sign that Roem’s status as a transgender woman would come up if she made it through the Democratic primary.
Roem, however, has gone out of her way not to bring up her gender unless she’s asked about it. She hasn’t run from being an open transgender female, but she hasn’t bothered to bring it up because the way she sees it, being transgender won’t help a single resident of her district earn a higher paycheck or spend more time with their family.
When she first explored the possibility of running in the summer of 2016, long before the election of Donald Trump, she did it because of years of problems in her district, most of which centered around watching the jobs that could be done in her home county instead head to Prince William County’s neighbors.
2. She Got Into The Race Because of Traffic
In an era where Kid Rock floated a run for the Senate for months before admitting it was a hoax, Roem’s reason for getting into politics is incredibly simple. She wasn’t concerned about getting into politics as an effort to make a name for herself. Nor did her run have anything to do with her status as a transgender woman. She simply wanted to see her community stop sitting in traffic every weekday because of a lack of jobs at home.
Roem has called Manassas home for the overwhelming majority of her life and has watched as the urban sprawl of the nation’s capital has engulfed the small town she once knew. When Roem was born in 1984, just over 50,000 people in Prince William County voted in that year’s presidential election. Last year, 50,000 wasn’t even half of Hillary Clinton’s final vote total of 113,000 in that one county. The county has nearly tripled in population during her lifetime, and most of its residents travel north to Washington for work each day.
However, the main route from Manassas to the roads that take drivers into Washington and Northern Virginia, Virginia State Route 28, is woefully outdated for the needs of its community. The road has been called the biggest source of Northern Virginia’s legendary traffic problems, and without some serious changes, the commute is unlikely to improve anytime soon. As a result, she coined the slogan “28 and Innovate” for her campaign, and she’s stuck to those main ideas.
3. She Spent Almost 10 Years in Journalism Before Running
If she is elected to the House of Delegates, Roem would instantly win another political title: the legislator least likely to accuse the media of printing “fake news” if a journalist publishes something that she doesn’t like. That’s because she’s been on the other side of the notebook for most of her life, having written for the Gainesville Times (later the Prince William Times) as the main news and sports writer and covered events for other publications in the Washington metropolitan area for almost a decade.
Roem has kept her reporter’s notebook with her on the campaign trail, using it to write down the concerns of voters that she’s interacted with during her efforts to win their support.
4. She’s Kept Her Campaign Focused on Issues
Throughout her campaign, Roem has held to two basic rules that she’s placed above anything, even above her campaign’s issues: keep her family out of the race and keep her attacks on Marshall focused entirely on his political beliefs and policies.
Marshall has respected the first part of that idea, as Roem’s family has not come up at any point in the campaign, but the second has been a point of contention. Throughout the race, Marshall has consistently used male pronouns to refer to Roem, refusing to respect her status as a transgender woman.
Conversely, Roem has focused on the jobs aspect of Marshall’s opposition to her status as a trans woman. When she’s brought it up, she’s focused on one of two things: either that Marshall’s focus on where trans individuals go to the bathroom has hurt Virginians because he hasn’t dedicated enough time to fighting the traffic snarl, or that Marshall’s failed bathroom bill was already enacted in North Carolina and repealed after the state lost billions of dollars in business.
For her part, Roem has expressed a desire to both Heavy and other sources that she wants Virginia to position itself as being more welcoming than North Carolina without charging its residents the high taxes that are found in Maryland.
5. She Was The Lead Singer in a Heavy Metal Band
For most of the early part of the decade, Roem was no stranger to touring the country. But unlike politicians who tour the country in hopes of making a run for national office, Roem was on the road to perform.
Starting in 2007, Roem’s band Cab Ride Home, named after a night out involving Roem and another band member that resulted in the friends needing to take a cab home, has performed more than 100 shows, including stops in Aberdeen, Scotland.
Roem has been the lead vocalist for the band since 2009 and held the position both before and after her transition from male to female in 2012. She credits her time in Cab Ride Home, which has gone on hiatus for the time being, and the heavy metal scene in general, with a large role in both making her transition easier and encouraging her to make the run for the Virginia House of Delegates.