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  • Eliza Lamont

A Harbinger of the “Rainbow Wave”: Danica Roem’s Election to the VA State Senate

Protest Trans Military Ban, Washington, DC , Courtesy of Ted Eytan


On November 7, Danica Roem (D-VA) won the state senate seat in Virginia’s 30th district, beating her opponent Bill Woolf (R-VA) by three percentage points. Roem’s victory makes her the first openly transgender candidate to be voted into a senate position in the South and the second transgender person elected to a state senate position in the United States.


Roem’s win in the senate came after three terms in Virginia’s House of Delegates when she became the first transgender state legislator in the United States. A former journalist and self-proclaimed “transgender, metal head, reporter, yogini, stepmom vegetarian,” Roem’s victory is part of a larger “rainbow wave” in the 2023 elections. In this election cycle, 238 “out” LGBTQ+ candidates, or those who openly made their sexual orientation and/or gender identification public, won their respective elections. These numbers are up from 2021 when 185 LGBTQ+ candidates were elected. 

Roem’s journey to the senate was not without obstacles.


Her opponent, Bill Woolf (R-VA), was endorsed by current Virginia governor Glenn Youngkin (R-VA). Woolf has supported transphobic policies in the past, such as preventing transgender girls from competing in girls’ sports. Roem faced an unprecedented amount of transphobic sentiment while on the campaign trail, with one national organization disseminating mass mailers with her personal contact information and the message toput the heat on Danica Roem.” 


Despite the challenges faced on her recent campaign trail, Roem has not altered her commitment to connecting with the community in her role as a public official. Roem states, “No matter what office you run for, always run like you’re running for mayor.” In this, she emphasizes the importance of connecting with the people on a personal level, regardless of the specific election position pursued. While this is her personal approach to campaigning, she looks to see the same high standard for campaigning on a more universal scale. 


Roem continues to take this local approach in the policy issues that she focuses on. One of her biggest campaign points during the past four elections has been transportation policy, where she looks to ameliorate traffic congestion. Specifically, she looks to improve Virginia’s Route 28, a place she has seen suffer from traffic congestion for the past 40 years. She also has a focus on education, making free and reduced-cost meals more accessible for students, as well as creating learning environments that are equitable and safe. 


Roem’s 2022 memoir, Burn the Page, highlights her background and what brought her to her successful career in Virginia politics. Her memoir details her struggles discovering her gender identity and how she felt she had to hide this part of herself from others for fear of persecution or judgment. By sharing these difficult parts of her life, she hopes that she can help others going through the same experiences. She believes that it is a vulnerable experience to make yourself visible and that by sharing her own vulnerabilities, she will help break down barriers for members of the LGBTQ+ community.


As only the second transgender state senator in the U.S., she recognizes that her position gives her the opportunity to influence the lives of others for the better. 


She hopes that her position in office will convey to everyone, but especially younger members of the LGBTQ+ community, that there's “someone like them, and who hurts when they hurt - and is trying to do something about it.” Having an empathetic representative in office makes people feel like they are being heard, which circles back to her locally-based approach to campaigning. 


While Roem’s win in the senate represents a victory for both members of the LGBTQ+ community, as well as LGBTQ+ politicians, there is still a large equity gap in politics. Presently, there are 1,185 out LGBTQ+ elected officials in the United States, meaning that 0.23% of elected officials are members of the LGBTQ+ community. This percentage is notably lower compared to the estimated 7.1% of individuals, or at least 20 million adults, in the United States who identify as members of the LGBTQ+ community. Especially for the 1.6 million transgender Americans, this disparity underscores a significant lack of representation in politics. 


Danica Roem and Sarah McBride represent the two most visible transgender politicians, offering only two representatives for a population of 1.6 million. Sarah McBride (D-DE) is currently campaigning for a congressional seat in the 2024 election, aiming to become the first openly transgender congressperson. While her potential victory would mark a significant milestone, it stresses the importance of moving beyond “firsts” in LGBTQ+ representation in U.S. politics. True equality demands constant progress. 





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