March 22, 2018 at 6:00 am EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Danica Roem looks back on first months in office

Danica Roem, gay news, Washington Blade

Virginia state Del. Danica Roem (D-Manassas Park) sits at her desk in the Virginia House of Delegates chamber shortly after she was officially sworn in on Jan. 10, 2018. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

MANASSAS PARK, Va. — Virginia state Del. Danica Roem (D-Manassas) on Monday said reducing congestion on Route 28 remains her top legislative priority.

She pointed out to the Washington Blade during an interview at the Manassas Park Community Center that she introduced a resolution before she took office on Jan. 10 that calls upon the Virginia Department of Transportation to study ways to improve Route 28. A Virginia House of Delegates subcommittee tabled the resolution, but Roem said she continues to work with the department on the issue.

“I’m just going to keep my foot on the gas on that one,” Roem told the Blade.

Fixing Route 28 was a cornerstone of her historic campaign that garnered international attention.

Roem, a former journalist, last November defeated Bob Marshall, an anti-LGBT Republican who had represented the 13th District since 1992. Roem is the first openly transgender person seated in any state legislature in the U.S.

Roem told the Blade that she was “treated as any other freshman Democratic delegate has been treated” in the House. She also noted she has been referred to as “gentlewoman” — even though House Majority Leader M. Kirkland Cox (R-Colonial Heights) suggested he would stop the tradition of using gender-specific formal titles to refer to lawmakers if Republicans were to retain control of the House — and her colleagues use female pronouns to refer to her.

“I’m only referred to by female pronouns there, as I should be, like any other woman in the House of Delegates,” said Roem. “This shouldn’t even be a conversation point. In that regard, everyone treated me with the decorum that you should be treating any other woman in the House of Delegates.”

Virginia state Del. Danica Roem (D-Manassas Park) greets a colleague on the floor of the Virginia House of Delegates on Jan. 10, 2018. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Roem told the Blade one of her colleagues towards the end of the legislative session “wanted to talk to me about religious stuff and things like that and it got kind of uncomfortable.” She declined to specifically name the delegate who approached her.

Roem pointed out she was assigned to the Counties Cities and Towns and Science and Technology Committees. Roem told the Blade she developed a “very, very quick reputation” among her colleagues that she “knows what she’s talking about, she knows her stuff.”

“I was able to present myself as a serious legislator who knew the issues,” said Roem. “That carries a lot of weight among other members of the House of Delegates.”

Vote to expand Medicaid ‘worth it’

Roem said one of the other highlights of her first months in office was voting to expand Medicaid in Virginia.

The House and the Virginia Senate remain at odds over the issue as they continue to negotiate a state budget bill. Roem pointed out to the Blade that 3,700 people who live in the 13th District would get health insurance if Medicaid is expanded.

“I understand — obviously — they’re still ironing that out between the House and Senate at that point,” she said. “But if all the other strife I had to go through this past year was to help to get health insurance to 3,700 people who live here — and this community where we are right now in Manassas Park 1,300 people who live here — that’s worth it. Just for that one vote, it’s all worth it just to make that happen.”

Roem did not introduce any LGBT-specific bills during the 2018 legislative session, but she co-sponsored state Del. Kaye Kory (D-Falls Church)’s House Bill 10 that would have added sexual orientation and gender identity to Virginia’s hate crimes law and state Del. Marcus Simon (D-Falls Church)’s House Bill 75 that would have repealed the commonwealth’s statutory same-sex marriage ban. Roem also co-sponsored state Del. Mark Sickles (D-Fairfax County)’s House Bill 1267 that would have required the state employee health plan to cover transition-related health care.

Roem co-sponsored Kory’s resolution that would have begun the process of repealing the amendment to Virginia’s constitution that defines marriage as between a man and a woman. Marshall co-wrote the amendment that voters approved in 2006.

The Senate on Jan. 26 approved state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria)’s Senate Bill 202 that would have banned discrimination against employees based on sexual orientation and gender identity and state Sen. Jennifer Wexton (D-Loudoun County)’s Senate Bill 423 that would have added LGBT-specific protections to Virginia’s Fair Housing Law.

A House of Delegates subcommittee on Feb. 8 killed both bills along with state Del. Mark Levine (D-Alexandria)’s House Bill 401 that would have banned anti-LGBT discrimination in employment, public accommodation, housing, banking, insurance, public contracting and apprenticeships. Subcommittee members also killed Simon’s House Bill 1527, which was identical to SB 423.

Another House subcommittee on Feb. 6 tabled state Del. Debra Rodman (D-Henrico County)’s House Bill 1466, which would have banned health insurance providers from discriminating against trans policyholders in Virginia.

LGBT bills ‘intentionally’ sent to hostile House subcommittee

Roem — who noted Levine was her House mentor — watched subcommittee members kill the four LGBT rights bills on Feb. 8. House rules prevented her from testifying in support of the measures, but she told the Blade she decided to “stand with the advocates.”

“I’m going to stand with the activists, literally stand up during their testimonies,” she recalled. “And then once all four bills were presented and they were going to start voting on them, that’s when I walked over to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Del. Levine to basically make sure that every member of the panel had to look at us as they were voting on our rights and the rights of the people in the room and knowing fully well the people who we represent that they were voting on their rights as well.”

Roem said Cox sent the LGBT rights bills to “that particular (sub)committee so that they would die there.” Equality Virginia Executive Director James Parrish and other advocates also criticized Cox over the issue.

“That was intentionally done,” Roem told the Blade. “I don’t know what other than flipping a majority we can do to change that outcome.”

Members of the Manassas Park City School Board on Feb. 26 voted unanimously to add sexual orientation and gender identity to its nondiscrimination policy. Roem is among those who testified in support of the additional protections.

Roem backs gun control, in-state tuition for DACA recipients

In addition to co-sponsoring LGBT rights measures, Roem also told the Blade she supports Richard “Rip” Sullivan (D-Fairfax County)’s House Bill 198 that would allow commonwealth’s attorneys or a law enforcement officer to “remove firearms from a person who poses a substantial risk of injury to himself or others.”

The House Courts of Justice Committee tabled the measure on Feb. 15, one day after a gunman killed 17 people inside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

Roem also supports Kory’s House Bill 11 that would have provided in-state college tuition to undocumented students who have been able to remain in the U.S. through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. The House Rules Committee tabled the measure on Feb. 13.

“This would help so many people who go to school at Manassas Park High School so they can afford to go to college,” Roem told the Blade. “Those DACA recipients are my constituents just the same as anyone else is my constituent too and I treat them as such.”

Virginia state Del. Danica Roem (D-Manassas) on March 19, 2018, told the Washington Blade during an interview in Manassas Park, Va., that reducing traffic congestion on Route 28 remains her top legislative priority. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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