In the year since her upset victory in Virginia's 13th State House District, Danica Roem has gone from trying to make history to trying to make a difference to her constituents.
In an interview with NBC Out, in collaboration with NBC Think, Roem talked about what she’s learned since her history-making 2017 election victory, when she became the first out transgender person to be elected and to serve in a state legislature.
In the process of running for office, Roem said she found out what it means to be pigeonholed because of your identity. In the press, an election opponent was referred to as a “former prosecutor,” Roem said, while she “was referred to as an LGBT activist who would be the first transgender official elected in Virginia. Well, I am… but at the same time, I am a reporter; that is my background.”
“I always think of myself as a reporter before I think of myself as a politician,” Roem said. “I will be critical of specific issues that come up in reporting, but you never, ever hear me condemn ‘the media,’ you never, ever hear me condemn reporters.”
“It’s so important for elected officials to acknowledge and respect the role the Fourth Estate plays both within the United States and around the world in terms of government accountability,” Roem said. “We need good reporters more than ever, and we need to respect our good reporters and encourage investigative journalism more than ever.”
Roem said her background in news helps her understand the coverage of her as a barrier-breaking figure. “When you’re covering an LGBTQ person, if it is related to an LGBTQ issue, if it is related to a historic first, then it is relevant to discuss sexual orientation or gender identity,” Roem said. But if the story doesn’t have to do with that, Roem said, “then the story — when you’re going to interview about that person — is their position on public policy.”
In her short time in office, Roem has earned a reputation for a laserlike focus on local concerns, like fixing Route 28, a traffic-congested artery that runs through her northern Virginia district.
At the 2018 International LGBTQ Leaders Conference in Washington, Roem cited her favorite headline from the 2017 election: “Transgender candidate just wants to get rid of traffic.”
“In 2019, all my bills will be either government accountability or constituent service requests because, well — the people elected a reporter,” she said.