MANASSAS, Va. — Danica Roem was canvassing in the Sudley section of Manassas in Prince William County on Tuesday afternoon when Natalie Fort parked in front of the townhouse in which she lives with her older sister.
Fort told Roem that reducing congestion along Route 28 is among her top issues going into November’s general election. Fort, who is a high school Latin teacher in Fauquier County, also said “protecting our LGBTQ students” is also among “the most important issues.”
“That’s near and dear to my heart because I’m gay myself,” she told Roem.
Roem spoke with Fort a week after she defeated Brentsville Magisterial District Democratic Committee Chair Mansimran Kahlon, Steven Jansen and Andrew Adams in the Democratic primary for the 13th District in the Virginia House of Delegates. Roem will face off against state Del. Bob Marshall (R-Prince William County) in November.
“I expect to win,” Roem told the Washington Blade on Tuesday during an interview at a Manassas restaurant.
Reducing Route 28 congestion among top campaign issues
Roem was born and raised in the 13th District, which includes Gainesville and Manassas Park. She lives in the Manassas section of Prince William County.
Roem was a reporter for the Gainesville Times from 2006-2015. She has also worked for the Prince William Times, the National Journal and the Montgomery County (Md.) Sentinel.
Roem throughout the interview repeatedly highlighted transportation, economic development and education are her main issues. She said improving Route 28 in order to reduce traffic congestion, extending the Virginia Railway Express commuter trains to Innovation Technology Park as a way to bolster the area’s high-tech industry and increasing teacher salaries in Prince William County would be among her top legislative priorities in the Virginia House of Delegates if she were to defeat Marshall.
“I have proven myself as someone who has a command over facts, a command over public policy, who has a thorough understanding of detail that goes into land use, that goes into transportation, that goes into economic development, that goes into education, that goes into health care,” Roem told the Blade. “When you run for delegate, you have to know a lot about a lot. You can’t just have an inch thick, mile long knowledge.”
Roem is the first openly transgender nominee for public office in Virginia. She would also make history as the first out trans person seated in any state legislature if she were to succeed Marshall.
Roem described herself as “unabashedly pro-equality and anti-discrimination,” noting one of her campaign volunteers is a 14-year-old trans teenager.
Roem has testified in support of a proposal that would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the Prince William County School District’s nondiscrimination policy. She has also sharply criticized President Trump’s decision earlier this year to rescind guidance on how public schools should accommodate trans students.
“That’s not okay,” Roem told the Blade.
Roem acknowledged her campaign has gained national attention because people “see someone who can inspire them and someone who champions the things they believe in.” She also noted to the Blade she is not challenging Marshall simply because she is trans.
“My credentials for this office are not based on my gender,” said Roem.
Marshall co-wrote Va. marriage amendment, introduced bathroom bill
Marshall has represented the 13th District since 1992. He remains among the most vocal opponents of LGBT rights in the Virginia General Assembly.
Marshall co-wrote Virginia’s constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman. He also supported the late Prince William County Circuit Clerk Michèle McQuigg, who was a defendant in a federal lawsuit that challenged the same-sex marriage ban.
The U.S. Supreme Court on Oct. 6, 2014, announced it had declined to accept the case. Gays and lesbians have been able to legally marry in Virginia since that day.
Marshall in 2016 introduced House Bill 385, which would have prevented municipalities from enacting anti-LGBT discrimination measures. Marshall earlier this year introduced House Bill 1612, which would have prohibited trans people from using public bathrooms based on their gender identity.
Members of the Republican-controlled House General Laws Subcommittee killed HB 1612 by a voice vote. HB 385 also failed to get out of committee.
“We deal with the same issues, which makes me wonder why his legislative priorities are more concerned with where I go to the bathroom than improving how his constituents get to work,” Roem told the Blade, noting she lives roughly two miles away from Marshall. “You would figure that someone who lives that close to Route 28 would be focused like a laser on it.”
Equality Virginia PAC, Northam among Roem supporters
Equality Virginia’s Political Action Committee, the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, the Trans United Fund, EMILY’s List and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee are among the organizations that have endorsed Roem. Lieutenant Gov. Ralph Northam, who is running against former Republican National Committee Chair Ed Gillespie to succeed Gov. Terry McAuliffe, also supports her candidacy.
“Danica’s campaign embodies the values we’d like to see more of in Richmond: Courage, tolerance and equality,” Northam told the Blade on Tuesday. “That’s why her candidacy is resonating so powerfully among voters. She has my full support and I’m looking forward to continue partnering with her to take our majority back in the House.”
Catherine Read, who is a member of the Equality Virginia PAC’s board of directors, described Roem to the Blade as “a young, dynamic, qualified and visionary candidate ready to represent the people of the” 13th District.
“Manassas is her hometown,” said Read. “She understands both the challenges and the opportunities the future holds for her constituents.”
“Danica represents the future of Virginia on many different levels,” she added.
Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund CEO Aisha C. Moodie-Mills on Wednesday described Roem’s victory in last week’s primary as “a rejection of the anti-trans rhetoric and policies we are witnessing in state legislatures all across the country.”
“Both Danica and her constituents are focused on local issues,” Moodie-Mills told the Blade. “She won because she knocked on more doors, connected with voters and ran a smart campaign as an out trans woman.”
“But the symbolism of this race cannot be missed, and our community must rally behind Danica to defeat ‘Bigot Bob’ and ensure she becomes the only out trans state legislator in the country,” she added.
Equality Virginia PAC Executive Director James Parrish, like Moodie-Mills, noted the historic nature of Roem’s candidacy. He also described Roem as a candidate who “provides a viable option for the residents of Prince William County.”
“She not only counters the hateful rhetoric of her opponent but her knowledge of local issues and steadfast devotion to her neighbors prove that Danica is the right choice for District 13,” Parrish told the Blade on Wednesday. “We know that representation matters and believe that Danica is just the beginning; her candidacy will open the doors to electing more transgender individuals in Virginia and beyond.”
Fort told the Blade after she spoke with Roem on Tuesday that Marshall’s anti-LGBT record is “already kind of a strikeout for me.” She added Roem’s gender identity did not factor into her decision to support her.
“I’m not voting exclusively for her for the sake that she is transgender,” said Fort.