Danica Roem does not concur that she made history in 2017 by becoming the first ever out transgender state legislator, when she was elected to represent the 13th District in the Virginia House of Delegates.
“12,077 people made history in 2017,” Roem, a Democrat, told The Daily Beast. “The people are the ones who voted for me.”
Roem does not shy from the fame that 2017 brought and she remains a vocal LGBTQ rights and equality advocate. But just as in 2017, she seems happiest and most engaged talking about policy and fighting for her 13th District constituents, encompassing Manassas, Manassas Park, Gainesville, and Haymarket. She is proud of voting to expand Medicare to 400,000 uninsured Virginians, including 3,800 of her constituents.
She is especially happy to talk about her major passion: transportation, and the legislation she has introduced to “fix 28”—as in resolve the congestion problems of State Route 28, a major highway in Virginia. A year after her advocacy began the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority allocated more than $120 million to Route 28 in 2018.
Roem has begun her campaign to be re-elected this Nov. 5 and, just as she faced homo- and transphobia in her successful campaign to unseat incumbent Bob Marshall in 2017, she is facing another anti-LGBTQ Republican who, The Daily Beast reveals today, is being supported by anti-LGBTQ organizations and their members.
Roem tells The Daily Beast that she is ready to fight any and all prejudice and bigotry on the campaign trail, just as in 2017 when the bathroom ban-supporting Marshall claimed Roem defied “the laws of nature.”
Roem’s opponent this November is Kelly McGinn, a former lawyer, congressional staffer for right-wing Kansas Republican Senator Sam Brownback, and conservative activist who called marriage equality “morally repugnant” and comparable to slavery in a 2007 letter which also called for Catholics to be less “civil” as they fought against marriage equality and abortion rights.
McGinn, who at the time was on the Board of Directors of anti-abortion organization Human Life International, said marriage equality and abortion were both part of a “Culture of Death.”
In a 2011 letter about adoption, McGinn said that instituting proposed non-discrimination policies for potential adoptive parents in Virginia, including around sexual orientation, was “absurd,” claiming that LGBTQ parents did not count as “forever families.”
“Discrimination is an inevitable part of finding the right family for the particular child in question,” McGinn wrote. “Similarly, although redefining family, marriage, and parenthood has become a national obsession, one man and one woman joined in marriage remain the most successful paradigmatic family in which to place a child.”
Roem told The Daily Beast of McGinn’s words: “How are you supposed to represent the families of the 13th District when you don’t recognize that LGBTQ families exist in the first place? I know LGBTQ couples in the four communities I represent. You can’t represent constituents by singling out and stigmatizing them. You can’t tell your LGBTQ constituents they can’t have a family. They have a right to have a family and to live here and thrive here because of who they are, not despite it. They are not less than anyone else.”
Earlier this year, when McGinn spoke against the “too extreme” Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), supporters around her laughed when she noted how in 1972 the notion of “sex” was based on “a common understanding—a man or woman,” which no longer existed in 2019.
McGinn got her way in February when an attempt to ratify the ERA in Virginia failed by one vote in the Republican-controlled House of Delegates. However, the campaign to pass the ERA in the state is a key issue in this November’s House of Delegates’ race; Roem supports the passing of the ERA.
McGinn has said: “The main reason I oppose the ERA is because this amendment would change our Constitution forever. In fact it would put abortion into the Constitution. All the 45 years about fighting about Roe v. Wade would be erased, all the laws that currently limit abortion, that provide parental consent requirements, they would all go away and you would no longer have any right to even prevent taxpayer-funded abortion.”
McGinn, so far at least, appears to be trying to hide her anti-LGBTQ and anti-reproductive choice views from Virginia voters.
Her election leaflets mention “better roads,” “stronger schools,” and “more jobs” but not her views on “morally repugnant” LGBT people and abortion.
On her website, McGinn does not express her anti-LGBTQ, anti-choice views; she markets herself as a moderate. Under “Values,” we read: “Kelly grew up in a faith-filled, close-knit family that valued hard work and serving others.” Under “Mom,” there is this: “Since she decided to become a full-time mother, Kelly has devoted herself to the most important work in the world—raising the next generation.”
McGinn did not return requests for comment for this article from The Daily Beast.
Roem told The Daily Beast: “Let me put this as bluntly as possible. I am absolutely prepared to defend my public record in depth, detail, and substance, and to also fight against any form of hate speech, against any form of anti-LGBTQ bigotry—no matter who it comes from—that is designed to denigrate the people I have been elected to serve.”
McGinn’s campaign has, said Roem, referred to Roem as “they” and “them” in phone polling.
Roem sighed and laughed quietly. “That’s misgendering me. It’s just typical. When I see something like that, I just flip the script and focus on my record, while recognizing that if that’s the rabbit hole you want to go down, using language like that, we will defeat it and win re-election this November 5.”
McGinn’s reticence to speak to the media about her anti-LGBT record may be because Roem’s victory in 2017 over a conservative Republican incumbent showed the changing political complexion of the 13th District. Hillary Clinton won the district in the 2016 presidential election.
Lucas Acosta, spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, said: “I think we’ll see McGinn operate with a different campaign style than somewhere like Alabama where it’s a race to the bottom when it comes to anti-LGBTQ views.
“McGinn’s statements make her homophobia clear and explicit. She shares views with, and has worked with, the anti-LGBTQ organizations who are supporting her and donating to her. Whether or not McGinn is telling voters she has these views is not clear, so it’s important for those voters to know what she believes, and what those organizations believe about LGBTQ people.
“McGinn is definitely attempting not to be as transparent as she should be with voters on LGBTQ issues. She might be able to pretend she’s a moderate Republican, when in actuality her past statements prove she is completely out of step with the mainstream Republican party—let alone mainstream America—on LGBTQ issues.”
Whatever she isn’t saying in her campaign, McGinn is benefiting from the support and donations of anti-LGBTQ conservative groups, and their members. Records from Virginia’s Department of Elections reveal that McGinn received $2,000 from Eagle Forum, a conservative organization founded by Phyllis Schlafly in 1972.
“Our Mission is to enable conservative and pro-family men and women to participate in the process of self-government and public policy-making so that America will continue to be a land of individual liberty, with respect for the nuclear family, public and private virtue, and private enterprise,” the Forum states.
In 2009, Schlafly claimed that “same-sex marriage is not the only goal of the gay rights movement. It's becoming clear that another goal is the suppression of Americans' First Amendment right to criticize the gay agenda.”
Since then, the Forum—tagline, “Leading the pro-family movement since 1972”—has “applauded” the introduction of President Trump’s trans military ban, decrying that “transgender surgery is not healthcare” and would cost the military too much, adding that “allowing transgenders [sic] to join the military takes a toll on military readiness.”
“Transgender,” Eagle Forum has claimed, “is the trendy new term for confused kids who claim their ‘gender identity’ [their quote marks] is different from their biological sex.”
The recent passing of the PRIDE Act, which updates the tax code to accord equality to same-sex married couples, was heralded by the group as “House Votes Special Tax Break For Homosexuals.”
Anne Schlafly Cori, chairman of Eagle Forum, confirmed to The Daily Beast that the organization was supporting McGinn. Schlafly Cori said this was because Eagle Forum, like McGinn, opposed the ERA. Schlafly Cori said she was “impressed” by McGinn’s conservative principles.
When asked by The Daily Beast whether Eagle Forum also supported McGinn because of her stance on LGBT rights and equality, Schlafly Cori said, “Let’s just take T of that,” and said she thought it was “awful and unfair” that “transgender athletes who were born men are allowed to compete against women.”
She also claimed that trans people serving in the military “need daily medical care and the military shouldn’t have to pay for that.” (The actual cost of trans-related care is less than 1 per cent of the military’s health budget.)
When asked if Eagle Forum was also supporting McGinn because Roem herself is transgender, Schlafly Cori said, “We would oppose anyone who supported the ERA, which Danica Roem does.”
McGinn also received $500 from employees of the Religious Freedom Institute, which states that it is “committed to achieving broad acceptance of religious liberty as a fundamental human right, the cornerstone of a successful society, and a source of national and international security. We accomplish this goal by convincing stakeholders in select regions that religious freedom can help them achieve their own goals—political, economic, strategic, and religious.”
Thomas Farr, the organization’s president who according to records has so far donated $250 to McGinn, has argued that the Equality Act—which passed in the House of Representatives in May and which would add sexual orientation and gender identity to protected classes under the 1964 Civil Rights Act—would “harm” religious freedom.
McGinn has also received donations from contributors to the Federalist Society, and a former member of the Virginia Catholic Conference board. In 2015, the Conference opposed marriage equality.
In 2016, the Conference’s Revd. Paul D. Scalia wrote that “transgender advocates argue that certain people are one gender physically and another interiorly. This posits an opposition between body and soul that has no place in the Catholic understanding of the human person.”
Roem told The Daily Beast of McGinn’s anti-LGBTQ supporters: “I think one of the most important things to realize in the context of my election and what it means for me to be in the House of Delegates, is that these outside groups who have been virulently opposed to LGBTQ equality hate seeing a transgender legislator who is actually successful in delivering on constituent service.”
Acosta believes that the donations to McGinn show that anti-equality campaigners are seeking to make “an example” of the history-making Roem, “and put a stop to the tremendous amount of success LGBTQ candidates and the community have made.”
HRC, Acosta said, wanted LGBTQ voters and allies in District 13 to mobilize to help get Roem re-elected, and also to ensure Democrats, and pro-equality candidates, take control in the House of Delegates and State Senate.
This, said Acosta, would mean that legislation—such as a bill that would have protected LGBTQ people from discrimination that was scuppered earlier this year—could finally pass in Virginia. “Virginia remains one of 30 states where if you’re LGBTQ you can be fired just because of who you are and who you love,” Acosta said.
In one significant recent LGBTQ victory, the state in June passed Jacob’s Law, which made Virginia’s surrogacy rules gender-neutral.
Roem said that what she considers her successes after two years in office, working as part of a bipartisan coalition—Medicaid expansion, a rise in teacher pay, the passing of the largest transportation funding bill in 6 years—“scares the daylights” out of those anti-LGBTQ activists who want McGinn to defeat her.
“I’m really good at my job. What else are they going to do? They tried transphobia against me the last time and it failed. Our record on public policy speaks for itself.”
When The Daily Beast asked Roem if she was concerned homophobia and transphobia would become part of campaign, she replied, “It already has.”
On March 11, the notoriously anti-LGBTQ Westboro Baptist Church “protested my existence as a trans woman” outside the state legislature on the same day as Roem submitted her ballot petition to qualify for office.
“The best thing to do to counter their message of virulent hate is to qualify for the ballot and continue serving the people of the 13th District as their delegate,” Roem said. She also received over $36,000 in donations from supporters after the protest.
Her experience of prejudice began soon after her 2017 victory, Roem told The Daily Beast. Not long afterwards, the incoming Speaker M. Kirkland Cox did away with gender titles, “so his caucus members wouldn’t have to refer to me as ‘the gentle woman from Prince William.’”
After the 2018 session ended, Roem told The Daily Beast, the Republican Party of Virginia “sent out an attack hit on me, saying I was the chief co-patron of a bill—it actually wasn’t my bill—requiring health insurers cover transition-related health care. Well, LGBT health care is health care, and trans people are following our doctors’ orders. This isn’t cosmetic or elective.
“The Republicans said it would raise health insurance premiums, which is completely wrong. It was just codifying what was existing ACA (Affordable Care Act) policy.”
Roem read out the Republican attack, which refers to “optional sex change surgeries,” which “all Virginians” would end up subsidizing. It concluded: “When Virginian families’ health insurance premiums are already at record highs, we cannot afford to pay for unnecessary liberal lifestyle choices.”
The Republican Party of Virginia, like McGinn, did not return requests for comment from The Daily Beast.
Roem said disbelievingly: “As in, my health care and other trans constituents, are ‘lifestyle choices,’ let alone ‘unnecessary’ when our doctors are the ones prescribing our treatments in the first place. That’s the bull the Republican Party of Virginia launched against me.
“Do you think they attacked me for any of the bills I authored? No. Do you think they attacked me for any of votes I cast? No. They went after me with transphobia for a bill where they wouldn’t even attack the patron of the bill.
“Sometimes transphobia in Virginia politics is used with a dog whistle, other times it comes out through a frickin’ bullhorn. This was one of those occasions when it was out the bullhorn.”
As for President Trump’s anti-LGBT animus—particularly as experienced by transgender Americans—Roem said she had taken Richmond-based activist Austyn Higgs to Trump’s recent speech in Jamestown, Virginia, to mark the 400th anniversary of representative democracy in the United States.
This gave Higgs, said Roem, “an elevated platform as a black trans woman advocating for the prevention of violence against trans people, and access to healthcare for them, as an antithesis to what he stands for. In her advocacy and in how she lives her life, Austyn is someone who is inherently inclusive, and working to make us all more like that. I couldn’t think of a better contrast to Trump—to make that case that we are as much of part of Virginia as anyone else. We’re not going anywhere. This is our home.”
Ask Roem what her ultimate ambition is, and you get the utterly Roem response that she wants to be “chair of the number 2 sub-committee of the House Counties, Cities and Town Committee.”
She would also love to have a seat on the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, as and when vacancies on its board come up. A former transport journalist, she understands the regional transport network “thoroughly” and is extremely animated when discussing it.
Roem said emphatically she had no interest running for state or federal office. She staunchly supports her congresswoman, Jennifer Wexton.
“The best job I can do is in the Virginia General Assembly,” Roem said. “I’m a lifer here. I’m from the 13th District. I’ve lived here my whole life. My skills and knowledge are uniquely designed to help the people I represent as their delegate in the state legislature. This is what I want to do.”
As for the election in 90 days, Roem is proud to run on expanding Medicaid, and getting the ERA ratified.
“We’re going to do what it takes to win the race, just like we did in 2017,” said Roem.