The Republican leader of the Virginia House of Delegates wants to do away with the chamber’s longstanding tradition of addressing lawmakers with gendered titles.
House Leader Kirk Cox told The Washington Post through a spokesman Tuesday that if Republicans maintain control of the House, lawmakers will be referred to as “delegate” instead of “gentleman” or “gentlewoman.”
The statement came in response to questions about how Delegate-elect Danica Roem, who is a transgender woman, would be addressed.
Cox spokesperson Parker Slaybaugh said Cox believes "delegate" is a more “timely and appropriate” term. His office said he had been considering the change since shortly after he was chosen as the party’s designee for speaker, which happened in February.
Del. Kenneth R. Plum, a Democrat and one of the Virginia House of Delegates' longest-serving members, called Cox's decision “shameful," adding if Roem hadn't won, “we would still be doing the same thing.”
The Democratic leader of the chamber, Del. David J. Toscano, also shared a public message of support for Roem, writing on Twitter that "every member" of the Virginia House Democrats "has the back of our Delegate *and* gentlewoman from Prince William County."
Roem, a Democrat, said while she knows the "intent" behind Cox's proposal to end gendered titles "wasn't charitable" toward her, she found a silver lining in the situation.
"I hope the unintended consequences of this will be non-binary Virginians feeling emboldened to run for office & win," Roem wrote on Twitter.
Jay Wu, a spokesperson for the National Center for Transgender Equality, told NBC News it is "pretty clear" that the intent behind Cox's proposal "is to avoid having to recognize that Danica Roem is a woman."
“That’s incredibly disrespectful, and frankly I would think that the speaker of the House would have more pressing matters to attend to," Wu said. "It’s really important for Delegate-elect Roem’s colleagues to recognize the very basic fact that she’s a woman.”
However, Wu, like Roem, did see the potential for Cox's proposal to have a favorable outcome for the transgender and gender-nonconforming community.
“As a non-binary person myself, I am similarly glad that the House is doing away with gendered terminology,” Wu shared. “I just wish it were doing that in order to be more respectful rather than doing it out of disrespect for Delegate-elect Roem.”