It’s election day in Virginia, and a bright eyed, incumbent-challenging, rookie candidate walks into a room full of canvassers. A Broadly documentary captures the moment. She thanks them for coming out and fills them in on what to tell the public about her:
“Number one: I’m a thirty three year old step mom. Number two: I was born two building over, so I’ve lived here my whole life. Number three: I was the lead reporter of the Gainesville Times covering this community for nine years, two months, and two weeks. All this means is I know the public policy issues – because I covered them.”
She adds one more thing, “I’ve completely emphasized the issues that unite us instead of the discriminatory social issues that hurt our community – that’s the message I want you to bring out to the doors today.”
She brings the group together, riles them up with a cheer, and sends them out, on fire to spread the word.
Danica Roem is a Democrat running in Virginia’s 13th state house district. She wants you to know that she is a step-mom and a journalist. She belongs to her community, a citizen cognizant of and passionate about local issues.
Her opponent, Bob Marshall, is a lifetime politician. Social issues are his passion, and he has identified as Virginia’s “chief homophobe” for over a decade.
Danica focuses on reducing traffic congestion on Route 28 and expanding teacher pay. Bob has called for a North Carolina style “bathroom bill” and once authored a piece of legislation to ban same-sex civil union. Danica believes “inclusion is a victory lap.” Bob’s campaign has included name-calling and insults. Danica focuses on local issues. Bob focuses on social issues. Danica is transgender. Bob lost.
CNN, Fox, and just about every other major news outlet has zeroed in on this seemingly non-critical local election. Images of Roem, under some titles that feature “first transgender,” have filled newspapers, TVs, and phone screens. Many people have noticed, for the first time, that a transgender woman has been elected to office in Virginia. What does it mean?
It means she was better.
It is absolutely remarkable that Danica Roem was elected to office as a transgender woman in a district that previously featured Virginia’s “chief homophobe”. It surely indicates progress and should be celebrated by those who believe that all people deserve the freedom to live in and improve society. Roem agrees: part of her platform rests in equality for all, be them immigrants, disabled people, or others often excluded. Naturally, she is passionate about these issues.
But that’s not where Roem’s focus is. As she writes on her website, Roem believes that “by redirecting our focus away from exclusionary and discriminatory social issues and toward the core issues in the county, we can deliver results for our district residents and improve their quality of life.” On her list of issues, she first lists traffic, jobs, and schools.
Roem has no time for Bob Marshall’s games and name-calling. She is too focused on making life better for those in the 13th house district of Virginia to care about him.
Roem did not win by focusing on identity politics. She did not lock in on her progressive beliefs and force people to pick a side on some singular, passion-filled issue. She knocked on doors, she told people her name, and she showed them that she would have their back.
Danica Roem’s campaign offers a message to all people running for office. Beyond the gender status that the media has focused on, Roem worked to mark herself as a public servant. She spoke the language of Virginia’s 13th – frustration with traffic, concern over school funding, a desire to bring development and jobs to town. Roem was “unapologetically here” as a transgender woman during her campaign, but she recognized that she was working to be hired for a job that gender identity should not affect. She presented herself as an expert on local issues, distanced herself from the murky waters of identity politics that Bob Marshall wanted to drag her into, and won herself a seat.
Yes, Danica Roem is a transgender woman. But she won’t spend too much time focusing on that; she has a traffic issue to fix.