RICHMOND, Va. – A Virginia woman who is set to become the first openly transgender person to serve in a state legislature in the U.S. brushed off her historic win over one of the state's most conservative lawmakers, saying she is focused on fixing congested roads and making the General Assembly more transparent.
"When we're talking about it being historic, yeah, it will be historic when a transgender woman finally helps fix Route 28 because that's what I'm here to do. This is why I ran. I was very, very specific about the issues I was running on," Democrat Danica Roem told FOX 5 in Washington, rattling off what traffic lights need to be replaced and specific overpasses that need to be built.
Roem, a former reporter who sings in a metal band in her spare time, defeated long-time Republican Del. Bob Marshall, winning 54 percent of the 22,000 votes cast in the northern Virginia House of Delegates district outside the nation's capital.
She will be the only out trans state legislator in the U.S., according to the Victory Fund, a political action committee that works to get openly LGBTQ people elected.
Roem started her gender transition about five years ago when she was 28 and began taking hormone replacement therapy in late 2013. While she openly talks about it, saying it "fundamentally altered my life for the better" — she's made it clear over months of campaigning that she would rather focus on jobs, schools and improving Route 28, one of the area's most congested thoroughfares.
"I'm going to bring a reporter's sensibilities here to Richmond so that we can actually accomplish the things I'm setting out to do without hyperbole, without discrimination," she told FOX 5.
She spent about 10 years working for the Prince William Times and the Gainesville Times, both local newspapers in Virginia. She graduated from St. Bonaventure University in New York and started working in the newspaper industry soon after. Working as a reporter taught her how to listen and understand people, she said on her campaign website.
She said she quit her job as a journalist to focus on campaigning full-time and said it's hard now to find time with her band, Cab Ride Home.
Roem said she wants to create a more inclusive commonwealth so that "no matter what you look like, where you come from, how you worship or who you love — you are welcomed and celebrated in Virginia because of who you are, not despite of."
Her opponent was a lightning rod for controversy, sponsoring a bill that would have restricted which bathrooms transgender people could use. Marshall often drew the ire of even his own party. He authored of a now-void constitutional amendment that defined marriage as between one man and one woman, and sponsored a bill banning gay people from openly serving in the Virginia National Guard.
On the campaign trail, Marshall and other Republicans repeatedly misidentified Roem's gender.
After the loss, Marshall said in a statement on Facebook that "for 26 years I've been proud to fight for you, and 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 has not responded to an interview request from The Associated Press.
Since Marshall was first elected in 1991, the district in the sprawling Washington suburbs has become more populous, diverse and left-leaning politically. In November, it was one of 17 Republican-controlled House districts Hillary Clinton won over Donald Trump in the presidential race.
Roem's win was the biggest among transgender candidates. Minneapolis elected Andrea Jenkins, a black transgender woman to its city council. Victory Fund said she was the first openly transgender woman elected to a city council of a major U.S. city.
Tyler Titus, who is openly transgender, won a seat on a western Pennsylvania school board.
"2017 will be remembered as the year of the trans candidate - and Danica's heroic run for office the centerpiece of that national movement," Victory Fund chief executive Aisha C. Moodie-Mills said in a statement.