Delegate Danica Roem, D-Va., participated in a discussion at the University of Tennessee on Sept. 27. Roem spoke about her experience growing up with gender dysphoria and reflected on her first two years as an elected official.
The event focused on electoral participation, transgender issues and Roem’s personal experience growing up as a closeted transgender woman.
“You can succeed because of who you are, not despite,” Roem said. She explained this is a piece of advice she tells everyone she meets. “You can succeed because of your identifiers.”
Roem said an integral role in her ability to run for public office was the changing social climate around LGBTQ rights over the past decade along with greater acceptance in communities.
“Here in Knoxville when I was growing up, if I was 12 years old, do you think there would be a room like this of 60-some-odd people to listen to a talk on intersectionality?” Roem said. “The answer is no.”
Roem won her Manassas-based district in 2017 by nearly 8% over an 11-term Republican incumbent. In January 2018, she was seated as the first openly transgender person in a U.S state legislature.
Roem credited her ability to run for office as openly transgender in part to the activists who came before her, notably those who participated in the Stonewall Riots in 1969.
“I am only able to do what I’m doing because a lot more people like me were vulnerable enough to be visible in the first place.”
She emphasized that her identity is not an obstacle for her success.
“When I announced my candidacy, I said ‘Yeah, I’m trans, and I have a lot of ideas for how to take care of our infrastructure’ and ‘Yes, I’m trans, and I will bore you to tears about water pipes,’” she said. “Notice I said ‘I’m trans and’ and not I’m trans but.’”
In nearly two years in office, Roem has joined a bipartisan group of legislators to expand Medicaid, succeeded in bringing a commuter bus line to the western part of her district and brought additional funding to improve Route 28.
Her visit to Knoxville comes five weeks before election day where she is up for a second term.
Images of Intersectionality, a group aimed at raising awareness of intersectionality through engagement and photography, organized the event along with the UT College of Social Work.
“The mission of social work is specific to vulnerable, oppressed and historically underserved populations,” Tony Murchison, special projects manager with the college, said. “I think Danica Roem’s personal identities, professional identity and the intersection of those really resonates with the social work mission.”
Edited by Grace Goodacre and Ainsley Kelso
Featured photo courtesy of the UT College of Social Work