In just two weeks, Virginians will go to the polls to elect new representatives statewide and in the House of Delegates. For most people outside of the state, this election hasn’t been a top focus — especially given the multitude of Trump administration horrors that distract the country every day.
But I would argue that LGBTQ people and our allies across the nation should be paying very close attention to Virginia. We have an opportunity to take a historic step forward in our community’s political representation. If elected, Danica Roem, who is the Democratic candidate for a Virginia House of Delegates seat, would become the first openly trans person to be elected and seated as a state legislator.
This matters tremendously — for a few reasons.
Danica Roem is an exciting young leader who will be an advocate for her constituents on issues that impact their daily lives, from public schools to traffic congestion. I have met Danica, and it was immediately clear that she is a highly-qualified candidate tuned in to the policy concerns of people in her district. People For the American Way was proud to endorse her through our Next Up Victory Fund program. But the race takes on a special importance because of the stark choice presented by the two candidates. While Danica Roem wants to talk about addressing the severe transportation problems that plague this district, her Republican opponent, incumbent Delegate Bob Marshall, has made attacking LGBTQ rights a top priority of his political career.
To name just a few examples: Marshall helped lead the fight against marriage equality in Virginia. He proposed a bathroom ban similar to the North Carolina law, falsely — and dangerously — painting trans people as predators. He proposed a bill barring gay people from serving their country in the Virginia National Guard, claiming that worrying “about this guy who’s got eyes on me” would be a “distraction” for other members of the National Guard. He thinks politicians should be able to put gay people in jail.
On women’s issues, Marshall is just as unhinged. He co-sponsored the state’s invasive “transvaginal ultrasound” bill. He is on record in opposition to birth control pills and has spoken out against rape survivors having access to abortion. He said that God punishes women who have abortions by giving their future children disabilities.
Most recently, he has refused to even recognize Danica Roem as a woman.
His degrading denial of her identity — and by extension, the identity of more than a million other transgender Americans — underscores another significant aspect of this race: trans representation. LGBTQ young people, and specifically trans young people, deserve to grow up in a country where they can see other trans people serving in office, leading in their communities, and representing them in government. As the slogan of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media says, “If she can see it, she can be it.”
This is especially important in our current political climate, in which Trump’s rise to power has catalyzed a terrifying surge in hate. Last year saw more violence against trans people than any previous year, with trans women of color the most targeted. Trump moved to prohibit all trans people from serving in the military and has welcomed virulently anti-trans groups into the White House. Against the backdrop of a rise in anti-trans bigotry, Danica Roem’s campaign becomes even more critical.
You may think you know a Bob Marshall — someone who won’t abandon their tired attacks on the basic rights of LGBTQ Americans — but very few of them have the power to write hatred into law. Defeating this brand of bigotry requires all of us standing together.
The election is coming up fast, but no matter where we live, it’s not too late for us to help give Danica Roem a critical boost, from making a donation to reaching out to friends in Virginia and reminding them to turn out and vote on November 7. We can make clear that betting against LGBTQ equality is a losing proposition.
MICHAEL KEEGAN is the president of People For the American Way. He was a founding national board member of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.