The Danica Roem Victory: Beyond “Transgender Candidate Beats Homophobe”



The Irony and the Symbolism

Danica Roem is the transgender, 33 year old journalist, who beat 13-term incumbent Robert Marshall for a seat in the Virginia State Legislature. Her opponent was the author of the failed “bathroom bill,” which would have prevented transgender people, like Roem, from using the bathroom of their choice.

For progressives, this is a huge victory. We don’t even need to know anything else about the situation. We can just cheer. And thumb our noses at the homophobes.

Roem has become a celebrity, (and local legislators do not normally become celebrities), due to the symbolism of her victory. Not her platform. Not her qualifications. Not her integrity. Many of us on the left are not even looking at any of those issues.

And the media is eating it up.  Searching for a punchline. A zinger. A soundbite to capture the moment. The irony. The victory for those of us who embrace inclusive values.

Several news media sources have grabbed the quote “Discrimination is a disqualifier.”  It is the right message. It has alliteration. But it really doesn’t roll of the tongue. It doesn’t paint the whole picture. It is not specific enough to capture the uniqueness of this moment.

The Candidate: Beyond the Symbolism

“Next year, Robert Marshall will be my constituent. I am not going to attack my constituents.”

Roem campaigned primarily on issues relating to local infrastructure. She is especially concerned about Route 28. During an election night interview with MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell, she brought it up repeatedly. Now we all know that state legislators, with concerns about local road conditions, don’t generally get national news coverage on election night. She is getting national news coverage because she is the transgender candidate who beat the homophobe.

During the interview, O’Donnell fished for a better soundbite. He pushed her to gloat about the symbolism of her historic victory. But Roem didn’t bite. In fact, she turned the whole situation upside down, and put those of us who were simply gloating in our place when she said:

“Next year, Robert Marshall will be my constituent. I am not going to attack my constituents.”

Read that sentence again please. And let it sink in.

The man she beat, the man who wanted to limit her use of public bathrooms, will be her constituent. And she is not going to attack her constituents.

And then there is the subtext. The unspoken words.

We live in a representative democracy.  We vote. The person who gets the majority of the votes comes to represent everyone in the district. The person who gets the majority of the votes represents not just the majority who voted for that candidate, but also the minority who voted for other candidates.  Because the minority are important too. The elected candidate may not champion the causes that the minority wants to see championed. But the elected candidate still represents that minority. And owes them, at the very least, respect.

We have moved so far away from these basic values in the past year. And it took a newly elected local representative to remind us of these basic values.

If you are elected, you represent all of the people. Even those who voted against you. Even those who promote policies that you oppose. Even those who attack you.

Later in the interview she did gloat a bit. But not about beating the man who thought she shouldn’t be able to pee in public.

She said that the only qualification that she had for this office was her 9-plus years working as a local journalist, covering community issues. And she lamented the ways in which journalists are being maligned.

She went on to say “Our local reporters are the people who keep our local governments accountable. Facts matter. Vetted facts matter.”

Oh, it would have been so satisfying to watch her really stick it to Robert Marshall and all of the his ilk.  To see her defiantly shake her fist and proclaim herself victorious in the face of adversity.

But she did something more important. She modeled the kind of integrity that has been sorely absent from much of our recent political discourse. She demonstrated the kind of leadership that brings people with diverse worldviews together. Damn. She is an impressive young woman. And impressive politician. I will be following her career. Not because she is the cool transwoman who beat the homophobe in a local race. But because she is the rare elected official who really embodies the values that our democracy should be based on.