Today, we offer seven questions to Danica Roem, a candidate for the Virginia House of Delegates. If elected, Roem, who was raised Catholic, would become the commonwealth’s first openly transgender elected official. Roem is challenging Delegate Bob Marshall, a Catholic and 25-year incumbent who has focused on opposing LGBT equality. Roem corresponded with Bondings 2.0 via email.
1. For our readers who are not in Northern Virginia, can you tell us a little about your background and about why you are running for state Delegate?
I’m a 32-year-old step-mom and a lifelong Manassas resident who authored more than 2,500 news stories about the greater Prince William County area as the lead reporter for the Gainesville Times from 2006-2015. I’m running to fix Route 28, bring high-paying jobs to Innovation Park, fill the office vacancies in Manassas Park and raise teacher pay in Prince William County and Manassas Park so it’s not the lowest in Northern Virginia. I believe we can accomplish all of those items together while working to make Virginia a more inclusive commonwealth. No matter what you look like, where you come from, how you worship, or who you love, you should be welcomed here for who you are, not for what other people tell you you’re supposed to be.
2. Can you share a little bit about your Catholic background? Has your Catholic background had an influence on your involvement in politics?
I was baptized and confirmed Roman Catholic at All Saints Catholic Church in Manassas. After attending kindergarten through third grade at Loch Lomond Elementary School in Manassas, I attended Catholic schools for the next 13 years, including five at All Saints Catholic School in Manassas, four years at Paul VI Catholic High School in Fairfax (Class of 2002) and four years at St. Bonaventure University in western New York (Class of 2006), where I earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism/Mass Communication.
My Catholic background introduced me to a quote from St. Francis de Sales that I repeat often on the campaign trail: “Be who you are and be that well.” Meanwhile, the social justice teachings from the church that are inclusive of other people–particularly taking care of the poor, homeless, neglected, abused and forgotten–are extremely important to me.
3. A lot of transphobia comes from religious groups. Why do you think this is so?
It’s a conflict between a literal interpretation of the Bible and the lived, experienced reality of people who deviate from that literal interpretation without reconciling what psychology teaches us. God has a place for transgender people, to,o and it’s not to club us over the head to tell us we’re supposed to be someone we’re not.
The same God who made men and women made some men transgender, some women transgender and some people non-binary. If God didn’t want transgender people to exist, we wouldn’t. If the entirety of your interpretation about what it means to be a man or woman boils down to an anatomical definition of sex, then you’re leaving out the heart and soul of what it means to experience a gender or lack thereof.
4. How have your gender identity and spiritual identity related to one another in your life?
My own personal gender identity and spiritual identity are reconciled. I’m not afraid to say I disagree with a lot of the Vatican’s teachings on gender and sexuality, and I fundamentally disagree with the lack of power offered to women within the church. People are perfectly capable of independent thought, we don’t have to believe everything we’re told from otherwise fallible people who are just like you and me.
5. You’re running against a Catholic, Delegate Bob Marshall, who has taken positions against the LGBT community, including introducing a “bathrooms bill” similar to North Carolina’s HB 2 law that would mandate people use restrooms according to their assigned sex at birth. What message do you have for Catholics like Marshall who do not endorse LGBT equality?
If I filed a bill so Catholic priests have to use a facility different than anyone else, that probably wouldn’t go over too well though it would be easy to justify it by saying, “Well, too many Catholic priests abused boys and young men, so they can’t be in the same restroom as boys and young men.” In fact, reading that very sentence probably elicited some sort of reaction from you, likely either, “That’s so offensive!” or “Ha, you tell ’em!” It shouldn’t have made you comfortable or uncomfortable; it should have made you simply recognize the absurdity of filing such a bill. We don’t do that because it’s discriminatory, it singles out and stigmatizes a specific group of people based on the actions of a criminal minority. And it’s impossible to enforce.
Meanwhile, there has never been a case in American history of a transgender woman sexually assaulting another woman in a restroom but transgender women are treated as if we’re more of a threat than the priest in the boys’ room who has a history of sexual violence. The last thing any transgender person wants to do is expose the parts of their anatomy that make them different from the other people around them. It speaks to a fundamental lack of understanding about how gender dysphoria works to suggest otherwise.
Transgender women are women, transgender men are men, gender non-conforming people are people and we all just need to pee.
Regarding equality more broadly, it’s simple: if two consenting adults want to get married, celebrate their joy, don’t tell them they’re abominations. If you wouldn’t want to be discriminated against for who you are, let alone told to be someone you’re not, then don’t discriminate against other people for who they are and don’t tell LGBTQ people they’re not supposed to be LGBTQ. Some people take time to figure out what’s best for them and they may try out several different identities until something fits. Some people know who they are and when they figure it out, they’re set. So leave them alone.
6. Religion, gender, sexuality are often volatile topics. How much of a role do you think they will play in campaigning for the office you are seeking?
They only play a role when I’m asked about them or I’m trying to find common ground. What other people say about religion, gender and sexuality is their business. When I’m knocking on doors, I’m talking about my plan to fix Route 28.
7. If you win the election, you will be the first trans person to hold elected office in Virginia, and one of a only a small number of LGBT elected officials in the country. Do you see yourself as an LGBT role model?
If you mean a role model for LGBTQ people who focus on improving infrastructure while running for office, sure. Otherwise, I don’t call myself that but if other people see me as a role model, that’s their business. I’m running to fix Route 28. Seriously. That’s why I’m doing this. When we replace the traffic lights in Centreville with overpasses, I’ll retire from politics and actually have a life again. So, note to anyone who doesn’t want me in office long: if you want me to go away, then hurry up and fix Route 28. I’ll gladly step aside when it’s done. I have exactly zero political ambition beyond the General Assembly. I’ll never run statewide. I’ll never run for Congress. I’m running to do a good job as a delegate, which vicariously means I’ll show that well-qualified transgender people are perfectly capable of dealing with public policy as anyone else who’s well-qualified.
To find out more about Danica Roem and her campaign, visit http://danicaroem.ngpvanhost.com/.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, September 24, 2017