Melina’s Memorandum: First Openly Transgender Woman Elected Over Incumbent to Virginia Senate

Democrat Danica Roem, an openly transgender woman, makes political history as the first publicly trans individual to hold elected office in the state of Virginia and is among a small number of trans individuals to serve in elected office in the entirety of the U.S.

This was both a literal and symbolic victory for the LGBTQ community, as Roem pointed out. Roem made this statement following her victory.

“Discrimination is a disqualifier,” Roem said. “This is about the people of the 13th District disregarding fear tactics, disregarding phobias, where we celebrate you because of who you are, not despite it.”

This win, along with many other Democratic wins in the Nov. 7 election, came as an impressive victory as Roem unseated the incumbent, Republican Del. Robert Marshall. The win came at the price of the 13-term incumbent’s once-comfortable seat in the Virginia Senate. According to “The Washington Post,” Marshall was one of Virginia’s most conservative elected officials, and he once described himself as Virginia’s “chief homophobe.”

Earlier in the year, he sponsored a restroom bill, which, if successful, would have prevented trans individuals from using the restroom associated with their chosen identity. Furthermore, Marshall refused to debate Roem throughout the election and only referred to Roem with male pronouns. Roem combatted this by out-raising Marshall 3 to 1. The fact that her campaign staff knocked on more than 75,000 doors in the district, maintained many public appearances and had a strong social media presence had a strong influence in this.

One of Roem’s main goals, she said during the campaign, was to fix a road that causes large amounts of congestion in the district.

“That’s why I got in this race,” Roem said. “I’m fed up with the road over in my hometown.”

Roem stuck to her main points, which were those that her voters felt were the most important, and she was successful because of it.

There are a couple important points to take away from Roem’s victory: the bucking of strong incumbent advantage and the ability of a district to adapt and choose an individual who represents their needs regardless of identity. Incumbents such as Marshall experience large influence during re-election campaigns because of things such as name recognition, ease of getting their platforms to the public, track records to show the people and easier fundraising.

Incumbents have already had their names on the ballot and have had their names circulated around the district, which often leads voters to check their names on Election Day. Furthermore, they are already in the spotlight to get their platforms to the public through media. Incumbents also have a voting record in their legislative body to show voters their stances on issues, as well as having networks already in place for fundraising. Clearly, Marshall discounted his opponent, and it came back to bite him despite having such an advantage.

Elections like these are the reason political science is such an interesting field. Regardless of where you stand on LGBTQ issues, Roem’s victory is an example of democracy functioning just as it should. Roem was able to demonstrate that what really matters in a legislative race are the issues she stands for and not the discussion about her identity. Marshall used his time during the race to attack her identity rather than showing the people that he would fight for their issues. It also goes to show those who are discouraged by recent politics that, while incumbent advantage is seemingly insurmountable, there are instances in which the person who best represented the people, and put in the work, won.