Tuesday night, Roem defied history—beating the incumbent Marshall by a 54-46 margin with 95 percent of precincts reporting in the Prince William County district.
She is now set to become the first openly transgender elected and seated state legislator in the United States—and she had to beat one of the most notorious opponents of LGBT equality in her state to do it. (New Hampshire's Stacie Laughton was elected to the House of Representatives in 2012 but never took the seat.)
For Roem, a former journalist, it was a personal victory. In her interview with The Daily Beast this June, Roem focused not on the fact that she is a transgender woman but on the traffic clogging Virginia State Route 28. Congestion on the commuter road remained her central campaign issue, even as Marshall attacked her for being transgender.”
“Delegate Marshall’s legislative priorities are more concerned with where I go to the bathroom than how you get to work,” Roem said.
This summer, after Roem won her Democractic primary, buzz started building that 2017 could be “the year of the transgender candidate.” Time and NBC both asked whether or not this year would be the year that transgender candidates finally started breaking through the stigma that has largely kept them out of government positions. (It wasn’t until 2015, after all, that the White House even hired an openly transgender staffer.)
According to the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, a political action committee that works to elect LGBT people, there are only six openly transgender elected officials in the United States. Including Roem, the Victory Fund supported seven transgender candidates this cycle. Victory Fund had raised over 200 thousand dollars for Roem.
“Tonight voters chose a smart, solutions-oriented trans leader over a divisive anti-LGBTQ demagogue—sending a powerful message to anti-trans legislators all across the nation,” Victory Fund president Aisha C. Moodie-Mills said in a statement Tuesday night, calling her victory “a historic milestone in our continued march toward equality.”
The Roem-Marshall contest was particularly dramatic because of how vociferously Marshall had attacked Roem’s transgender identity. Marshall, a diehard social conservative who has been called “the culture war’s four-star general,” introduced an anti-transgender bathroom bill in Virginia earlier this year that would have restricted restroom use in the state based on “original birth certificate.”
The Marshall campaign also consistently misgendered Roem, referring to her with male pronouns in a June statement to The Washington Post, In October, as the Post reported, authorized mailers from the Marshall campaign said that Roem was “born male” and included the header “Danica Roem in His Own Words.”
In a statement posted to Facebook on Monday night, Marshall, who first took office in 1992, refrained from attacking Roem’s transgender status, instead thanking his longtime supporters and committing to “fight for our future.”
“Though we all wish tonight would have turned out differently, I am deeply grateful for your support and effort over the years,” he wrote. “I’m committed to continue the fight for you, but in a different role going forward.”
Roem’s victory is a breakthrough moment for aspiring transgender political candidates. In 2016, two transgender women named Misty Snow and Misty Plowright challenged conservative legislators in Utah and Colorado after making it through their respective primaries—but ultimately lost their contests. Roem’s win against a hardline conservative in Virginia during a presidential administration that has been defined, in part, by its anti-LGBT actions emboldened LGBT groups on Monday night.
In a tweet, Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin called the win “a warning to anti-equality politicians everywhere,” saying that the “days of attacking LGBTQ [people] for votes are over.”
The National Center for Transgender Equality echoed that sentiment, adding that Roem’s victory “makes it very clear that discrimination doesn’t pay off.”
Roem’s victory is also one of the first major successes for the Trans United Fund, a bipartisan PAC that specifically supports transgender candidates. The Trans United Fund was formed last year in response to attacks on transgender rights throughout the country.And indeed, Roem’s victory marks an important cultural shift from just last year, when an unprecedented number of anti-transgender “bathroom bills” were being filed in state legislatures around the country as far-right fundraisers shifted tactics from targeting same-sex marriage rights. The Trump administration has only underscored those state-level attacks on the transgender community, rescinding Department of Education guidance protecting transgender students and attempting to ban transgender troops from the military.
Now, a transgender woman herself—the very figure that legislators like Marshall have tried to keep out of the restroom—will have a seat in the state legislature, where early returns as this was written showed Democrats making significant gains in what had been a Republican-dominated body .
The Daily Beast reached out to Roem’s campaign for comment and has yet to hear back. As of this writing, her most recent tweets were about State Route 28.