Republican lawmakers are taking drastic measures to avoid referring to a transgender politician by her gender identity.
Democratic delegate-elect Danica Roem has joined the Virginia House of Delegates, becoming the first openly transgender lawmaker elected to a state legislature. She expressed the power of being referred to as a “gentlewoman” in one of her campaign advertisements — but before she takes office in January, that power was taken away from her.
The Republican-controlled House chose to end their 400-year-old tradition of referring to one another as a “gentleman” or a “gentlewoman,” instead using the gender neutral language of “delegate.”
According to PinkNews, this change was made to avoid calling Roem by her gender identity.
House Majority Leader M. Kirkland Cox (R-Colonial Heights) confirmed the change in a statement to The Washington Post.
“All members will be afforded the same respect and courtesy that this nearly 400-year-old institution commands,” Parker Slaybaugh, spokesperson for Cox, said. “Speaker-designee Cox believes the ‘gentlelady’ and ‘gentleman’ terminology is outdated, and that referring to everyone as ‘delegate’ is more timely and appropriate.”
Former Virginia Commonwealth University Political Science Professor Bob Holsworth saw through their decision.
“They’re trying in some way to thread a needle with their own base,” he said. “They’re willing to change the tradition in this sense before they will explicitly acknowledge Danica Roem as a woman.”
However, Roem still remained strong, pointing out the lengths the Republican-controlled House are willing to go because of her victory.
“What matters the most is that I’m there,” she said. “What matters the most to the people of the 13th District is that the woman they elected to serve them will be working on their behalf. I will be the delegate from Prince William, and I will conduct myself as the gentlewoman from Prince William while I’m in Richmond and in any other official capacity in which I serve.”
Del. Kenneth R. Plum (D-Fairfax) was “really disappointed” in the change, stating “if Danica Roem had not won the election we would still be doing the same thing we have done for 400 years.”
He added, “It’s unfortunate that we, in effect, have to single out her election, as unique as it is.”
Still, Republican lawmakers defended the change. “There are always changes going on,” said state Sen. Richard Black (R-Loudoun). “We sometimes refer to women by the term ‘Ms.,’ which didn’t exist until some years ago. It used to be ‘Miss’ or ‘Mrs.’ Then, it was ‘Ms.’”
A House Democrat unnamed by the Washington Post believes the change was “shameful” and that the delegates “ought to be big enough to get over these hang-ups we have.”
Roem defeated GOP incumbent Robert G. Marshall (R-Prince William). During his campaign he repeatedly referred to her as a male and used male pronouns when referring to her. He also attacked her gender identity in order to garner more votes.
After her victory, the newly-elected lawmaker joined pop star Demi Lovato at the American Music Awards in Los Angeles to make a statement against bullying.
"Demi Lovato and Danica Roem are two strong and inspirational women who embody the need for all Americans to stand together united and to take action today against any form of discrimination and oppression,” said GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis according to E! News.
“Danica Roem is a trailblazer whose win in Virginia showcased both how young people and marginalized communities can impact voting results and how every American deserves an opportunity to work hard and achieve their dreams,” she added. “Demi Lovato continues her legacy of raising the bar for entertaining audiences around the world and for spotlighting social issues that need the most attention."