Danica Roem, the first openly transgender person to be elected to Virginia’s House of Delegates, has a message for President Donald Trump: “Get your s*** together and actually focus on infrastructure instead of discrimination.”
Ms Roem made history this month when she ousted one of Virginia’s longest serving and most socially conservative lawmakers – a man who once labelled himself the commonwealth’s “chief homophobe”.
When she takes office in January, Ms Roem will be the only openly transgender person in a state legislature anywhere in the US. But despite her unique situation, when asked how she intends to balance social issues with the issues she primarily campaigned on – solving traffic – she said her number one priority is still to fix the horrible congestion on Route 28 in Fairfax County.
“That’s why I got in the race – to replace the traffic lights on the overpasses because they were backing up traffic 25 years ago. They’re still backing up traffic all through Manassas and Centreville,” she told The Independent, referring to the two suburbs of Washington DC.
A former newspaper reporter, Ms Roem also said she has no desire to stay in politics for the long-term.
“When Route 28 is fixed, then I’m done with politics,” the 33-year-old said. “Peace out. I’ll have a life again.”
“If you want to do a good job in government, then you need to start by taking care of infrastructure. Public infrastructure is the very basic core function of government,” she added. “It shouldn’t be a partisan wedge issue.”
“I’ve made infrastructure my number one priority because to me, when you’re spending time building up our infrastructure instead of tearing down each other, then we’re able to focus on the issues that unite us and deal with our core quality of life issues. There’s not a Democratic or Republican way to build a bridge, and there’s not a Democratic or Republican way to install a water pipe.”
She pointed out that even Mr Trump during his campaign pledged to dedicate $1 trillion to improving the nation’s infrastructure.
“Where is that bill? 10 months later, he hasn’t done it,” Ms Roem said.
Democratic members of the US Congress in May criticised the President’s proposal to set aside $200bn (£154bn) over 10 years for infrastructure, saying it was not the big spending he had promised.
According to the President’s budget request, the funds would be used to encourage companies, as well as state and local governments, to invest at least $800bn in US infrastructure projects. This proposal has yet to be approved.
“And what’s he done instead?” Ms Roem asked. “He’s focused on discriminatory social issues that single out and stigmatise people instead of focusing on infrastructure. The same stuff I talk about at the local issue applies at the federal level.”
During her campaign, Ms Roem asserted that the incumbent candidate, Republican Bob Marshall who had served in Virginia’s House of Delegates for a quarter of a century, spent too much time on social policy.
Last January, Mr Marshall had proposed legislation for a ‘bathroom bill’, similar to what passed with great controversy in North Carolina in 2016. His bill would have required people to use the bathroom that corresponds with the gender on their original birth certificates.
He later toned down the language on the bill, to remove the word “original” – but blasted the Republican committee that stuck the revised bill down as “disgusting”.
Even though Ms Roem has emphasised that fixing her district’s infrastructure will be her biggest priority, the historical significance of her situation is not lost on her.
In the opening words of her victory speech on 7 November, Ms Roem dedicated her win “to every person who’s ever been singled out, who’s ever been stigmatised, who’s ever been the misfit, who’s ever been the kid in the corner.”
In an interview with The Independent, Ms Roem said she will also work to make Virginia a more inclusive commonwealth.
“And that no matter what you look like, or where you come from, how you worship or who you love, you feel welcomed, celebrated and respected in Virginia because of who you are and not despite it,” she said. “And that means we need to update our non-discrimination policies to include gender identity, sexual orientation and to take care of any other disenfranchised group.”
She continued: “Particularly right now in Virginia, you can deny housing, employment and health insurance to people based on their gender identity and sexual orientation. Obviously that needs to change. We also have discriminatory laws that are still in effect and outdated that need to be repealed.”