First transgender elected official in Virginia lauded as trailblazer
A 33-year-old transgender Democrat was being lauded as a pioneer on Wednesday after she won a seat in the Virginia state legislature against a Republican incumbent who openly boasted of being a "homophobe."
"Discrimination is a disqualifier and the message of inclusion is a winning message," Danica Roem, a former local newspaper reporter and singer in a heavy metal band, told AFP.
"It's humbling and I know I have a big responsibility right now -- get results," Roem said in a telephone interview following her landmark victory.
Roem defeated Robert Marshall, a staunchly conservative Republican who had represented the 13th District in Prince William County for 26 years, by 54.4 percent to 45.6 percent in a contest that drew national attention.
Roem will become the first openly transgender state lawmaker in the United States when she takes up her seat in the Virginia House of Delegates in the state capital, Richmond.
Democrats made stunning gains in the Republican-controlled Virginia legislature on Tuesday and romped to victory in the governor's race in what some analysts described as a wave of anti-Trump sentiment.
During a hard-fought campaign, the 73-year-old Marshall refused to refer to Roem in interviews or campaign literature as "she" or to agree to a debate.
Marshall once boasted of being Virginia's "chief homophobe" and was the author of a bill that would have forced transgender people to use the bathroom corresponding to their sex at birth.
He also co-authored a bill banning gay marriage.
Roem has said she did not enter politics to become an LGBTQ symbol but to deal with municipal and infrastructure issues, particularly traffic congestion in her district.
But she campaigned wearing a rainbow-colored headscarf and the historic nature of her win was not lost on her on Wednesday.
"I will be the first out and seated transgender state representative," Roem told AFP.
"I have the opportunity to get a lot of infrastructure projects done while at the same time demonstrating to people in the 13th District and around the world that transgender people make very good state legislators and that we care about our communities, too," she said.
Advocacy groups welcomed Roem's win as a victory for equality.
"Danica Roem's historic victory is a clear warning to anti-equality lawmakers across the country that the days of attacking LGBTQ people to scare up votes are over," Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin said in a statement.
"We look forward to working with her to help continue moving equality forward in Virginia," Griffin said.
"Voters chose a smart, solutions-oriented trans leader over a divisive anti-LGBTQ demagogue," said Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund president Aisha Moodie-Mills.
Equality Virginia executive director James Parish praised Roem's victory as "not only a victory for transgender Virginians, but for transgender Americans as well."
"Roem ran a smart, issues-driven campaign focused on improving the lives of her neighbours; a campaign that ran counter to her opponent's divisive and transphobic rhetoric," Parish added.
Roem said she had received a congratulatory call from former vice president Joe Biden and "a lot, a lot, a lot of people gave me hugs last night."
She said she also delivered an important message to her stepdaughter.
"I told my stepdaughter last night you can be whatever it is that you want to be," she said.
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