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Roem Makes Groundbreaking Appearance At Democratic National Convention


Speakers at this week's Democratic convention included Danica Roem. She is a Virginia state legislator representing a bit of the Washington, D.C., suburbs. She spent her time focused on basic issues like road repair. She says her campaign slogan originally involved fixing Route 28. She's also weighed in on divisive issues, like renaming schools that honored confederates.

DANICA ROEM: We have more things named after Stonewall Jackson than we have Starbucks.

INSKEEP: Here's another fact about Danica Roem. She was the first openly transgender elected official to speak at a national party convention.

ROEM: I've done what I need to do locally for my constituents to not just reelect me, but to trust me as a good elected official who focuses on good governance. And nationally, I also knew that there would be a lot of trans people across the country who could see, not just a trans woman speaking on television, but trans woman who holds elected office.

INSKEEP: Because you represent a suburban area, I want to note that's a big battleground in this election. Suburbs were traditionally more Republican, had become more Democratic leaning in recent years. President Trump is now fighting for the suburbs and continually referring to, quote, "suburban housewives" that he says should be worried about low-income housing being brought to their neighborhood. When you think about your constituents, is there a slice of people to whom that rhetoric would appeal?

ROEM: There's the slice who the president thinks he would try to appeal to. And then there is the reality that the 13th District is so diverse that as an out trans candidate running for reelection, I won 15 of my 18 precincts. If the suburbs are willing to elect an out transwoman who focuses on good government and then reelect her by an even higher percentage margin than the first run, that should show you that the president's racist rhetoric is not effective in the communities where people like me are actually winning elections.

INSKEEP: Maybe you should spell out why that is racist to say suburban housewives should worry about low-income housing. Let's be explicit.

ROEM: Let's be explicit. What we're talking about is segregation. This is talking about keeping people of color largely away from people who are white. Here's the big thing I want to highlight on this. This goes beyond racism. This goes into classism. And at the same time, Black and brown skin in this country has always stood for poor. People have to understand that the president is full of it when he's trying to say that by presidential decree, he's going to determine what local zoning is. It's just not true.

Now, what he was trying to do is roll back Obama era, you know, regulation that was about making sure that people of color actually had a chance at, you know, a suburban life if they so chose. But what he's explicitly making an argument about is way beyond his control. This just goes to show what happens when you live in a New York penthouse for, you know, most of your life. You're so far removed from the day to day existence of suburbia that you know that that's not even what you would call someone who raises their kids at home.

INSKEEP: One other thing, if you look at this president's record on trans rights - and he did stand at his convention four years ago in his speech and mention LGBTQ rights - if you look at his record, how would Biden be different than Trump?

ROEM: A President Biden would immediately overturn the trans military ban. They would never attack us for emergency housing. He would never attack us in our health care. And when President Trump in 2016 said that he would be a friend to LGBTQ Americans, he lied on national television. And the last thing I would say is that, President Biden, I know personally how much he cares about trans rights because he told me so when I met him while he was standing next to his son Beau's casket in Dover, Del., in 2015.

I'd driven out to Dover to pay respects to Beau Biden because when Beau was Delaware state attorney general, he fought successfully for a trans rights bill that passed the state legislature. And then Joe Biden, he had stood there for hours at that point. His eyes were a quarter masked. He was so tired. But he put his hands on my shoulder, he looked me square in the eye and he told me we mean that. We mean that. He then raised my right hand, kissed the back of my hand and brought me in for a hug.

INSKEEP: Danica Roem represents Virginia's 13th District in the Virginia House of Delegates. Thanks so much.

ROEM: Well, thank you so much, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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