Last week, I traveled to Virginia to meet Danica Roem, a transgender woman who was running to represent Virginia's 13th legislative district against Del. Bob Marshall, the Republican politician who quite literally introduced Virginia's anti-trans "bathroom bill" legislation.
I watched as 300 people, in the final push of campaigning, hustled in and out of her tiny campaign headquarters over the weekend. Alongside these volunteers, I watched Roem walk up and down dozens of rural roads in northern Virginia, motivating volunteers with her simple, grassroots rallying cry: "How do we win!? By knocking on doors!"
Last night, I stood with Roem and her fellow Democratic candidates in Virginia at a local bar and watched as she took her lead over Marshall, who relentlessly attacked Danica's gender identity as part of his own campaign strategy. My appreciation for her campaigning and politics quickly transformed into an overwhelming sense of hope. Tears streamed down my face as I realized that Virginia had elected its first openly transgender public official in history, and that Roem had just become the first openly trans person elected to a state house.
I thought back to exactly a year ago, when it first became clear that Donald Trump would be our next president and the rights and lives of my fellow trans sisters—and all of those belonging to marginalized communities —would be dramatically threatened. On the anniversary of that moment, Roem's win was a sliver of light—one that I believe is reflective of a larger resistance. Over and over, I heard Roem own this sentiment: I'm going to win because of who I am, not despite who I am.
"This is your America too."
When Roem stood up on the table at the bar to address the crowd after her victory, she spoke about how the Trump administration had created the very thing thing that will be its demise: the people who haven't been properly represented who are now campaigning, running for office, or becoming involved in politics for the first time. "To every person who's ever been singled out, who's ever been stigmatized, who's ever been the misfit, who's ever been the kid in the corner, who's ever needed someone else to stand up for them when they didn't have a voice of their own, because there was no one else who was with them, this one's for you," she said.
"I want to make a point here," she said to the cheering crowd, "that no matter what you look like, where you come from, how you worship, who you love, how you identify—and, yeah, how you rock—that if you have good public policy ideas, if you're well-qualified for office, bring those ideas to the table, because this is your America too."
She went on to highlight the two Latina women, Elizabeth Guzmán and Hala Ayala, and a black woman, Jennifer Carroll Foy, who had also just won in their districts in Virginia: "Our representatives now look Prince William County."
I haven't allowed myself to feel hope in a long time. To gain this overwhelming positivity towards the future from simply watching Danica's success, and to look around that bar after she won, knowing everyone was feeling it too, brought back a long-forgotten but welcome sense of optimism. Like getting over a heartbreak, sometimes it takes meeting someone new to restore your hope for the future and the possibility of what comes next, and that's what Danica's election did for me and so many others in Virginia last night.