Va. lieutenant governor: 'No intent to offend' in calling transgender senator 'sir'

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RICHMOND – Things took a tense turn in the state Senate after the Republican presiding officer referred to a Democratic transgender senator as “sir” during floor deliberations Monday afternoon.

After two recesses and her initial refusal to apologize, Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears eventually said she was sorry, but she did not specifically say that to Sen. Danica Roem, D-Prince William County. Instead, she looked at each section of the chamber and said, “I apologize.”

However, she appeared agitated in making that apology, saying that while she meant no disrespect in her comment, she chastised Senate Democrats for what she claimed was “showing disrespect towards me.”

It happened during discussion on House Bill 592, when Roem was asking Earle-Sears questions about the measure. In response to one of those questions, Earle-Sears replied, "Yes, sir." Roem then put down her microphone and walked out of the chamber.

Following the second recess requested by Democrats, Earle-Sears said there “was no intent to offend” when she made the remark, claiming that she had misspoken before.

“I understand Senator Roem is upset,” Earle-Sears said, emphasizing each word. “I’m not here to upset anyone. I’m here to do the job the people of Virginia have called me to do.”

She likened the behavior of some senators to “what we would not expect our children or our nieces and nephews to do.”

Democratic Sen. Danica Roem, left, a transgender woman, was referred to as 'sir' by Republican Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears Monday, Feb. 26, 2024, during bill deliberations on the state Senate floor in Richmond. Following two recesses in which she refused to apologize, the lieutenant governor, who presides over the Senate, issued a testy apology but not directly to Roem.

A Roem spokesperson said in a text to The Progress-Index, “There are no current plans to make a statement today.” Roem appeared to be distraught on the state Senate livestream after the incident happened.

A message left with the Democratic Party of Virginia seeking comment was not yet returned.

The social-media platform X [formerly known as Twitter] had a field day with how things transpired. Posters came down on both sides. Some called Earle-Sears “despicable” and urged a censure, while others defended the lieutenant governor.

Both Earle-Sears and Roem are precedent-setters in the Senate.

Earle-Sears is the first Black woman to be lieutenant governor and because of that role, the first Black woman to preside over the state Senate. Roem is the first transgender person ever elected to the Virginia General Assembly, initially in 2017 in the House of Delegates. She won her first Senate term last November.

Bill Atkinson (he/him/his) is an award-winning journalist who covers breaking news, government and politics. Reach him at batkinson@progress-index.com or on X (formerly known as Twitter) at @BAtkinson_PI.

This article originally appeared on The Progress-Index: Va. lieutenant governor calls transgender state senator 'sir'