Republicans have abruptly taken the decision to stop using gendered language in the Virginia House of Delegates – so they don’t have to refer to groundbreaking trans politician Danica Roem as a woman.
Democratic delegate-elect Danica Roem made history earlier this month as the first openly transgender lawmaker to be elected to a state legislature, after unseating GOP incumbent Bob Marshall, who penned anti-transgender ‘bathroom’ legislation.
Roem is set to take up her seat in the Virginia House of Delegates in January.
But ahead of the new session, the Republican-controlled body has opted to make drastic changes to the chamber’s 400-year-old rulebook.
Under the changes, politicians speaking on the floor of the House will no longer have to refer to eachother as ‘Gentleman’ or ‘Gentlewoman’, and will instead use the term ‘Delegate’ as a gender-neutral address.
While the removal of unnecessarily-gendered language might be cheered by liberals in other occasions, the GOP’s actions appear to be preventing lawmakers from having to refer to Ms Roem as a ‘Gentlewoman’.
House Majority Leader M. Kirkland Cox (R-Colonial Heights) confirmed the change.
In a statement to the Washington Post, his spokesperson said: “All members will be afforded the same respect and courtesy that this nearly 400-year-old institution commands.
“Speaker-designee Cox believes the ‘gentlelady’ and ‘gentleman’ terminology is outdated, and that referring to everyone as ‘delegate’ is more timely and appropriate.”
Republicans repeatedly referred to Ms Roem as male during the campaign, with Marshall focussing much of his campaign on attacking his opponent’s gender identity.
Delegate-elect Roem, who focused her campaign on local infrastructure issues, did not rise to her opponent’s jibes.
After the election result, she said: “Bob is my constituent now. I don’t attack my constituents.”
Politics professor Bob Holsworth told the Post that the Republicans are “trying in some way to thread a needle with their own base”.
He added: “They’re willing to change the tradition in this sense before they will explicitly acknowledge Danica Roem as a woman.”
Delegate-elect Roem said: “What matters the most is that I’m there.
“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.”
Marshall, who will be unemployed in January, co-authored the state’s now-defunct constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.
In her victory speech, Roem said: “This election has to prove nationwide that discrimination is a disqualifier.
“When you champion inclusion, when you champion equality, when you champion equity and you focus on the issues that unite us, like building up our infrastructure…those are the issues that you have to focus on,” she added.
“I believe in building up our infrastructure instead of tearing down each other. That is fundamental.
“When the negative ads started coming out, attacking transgender kids…we stayed on our message while decrying discrimination.”
Roem told everyone watching: “We can’t get lost in discrimination, we can’t get lost in B.S., we can’t get lost tearing each other down.
“No matter what you look like, where you come from, how you worship, who you love, how you identify – and yeah, how you rock – 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…and we are stronger together,” Roem told the crowd.
She dedicated her win to everyone who’s been discriminated against.
During the campaign, she championed LGBT rights, saying: “We are unabashedly pro-equality & anti-discrimination.
“It’s time we put LGBTQ kids front-and-centre, and I’m standing with them.
“As a trans woman, I know representation matters.”
In contrast, Republican Bob Marshall, who has been in office since 1991, has a long history of introducing hateful anti-LGBT bills to the Virginian legislature.
In January, he put forward a bill which would have forced school teachers to inform the parents of transgender kids if they ask to be referred to with different name or gender – even if the child is in the closet or fears a violent reaction at home.
The bill, which would have also forced people to use the bathroom corresponding to the gender on their birth certificate, was killed without debate and condemned by Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe.
Marshall has also called for the state’s Attorney General to be impeached and charged for supporting “sodomy marriage”.
And in 2015, he proposed a bill which would have effectively granted people and businesses the right to discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.
In May, Roem said: “When the people of the 13th District elect a transgender woman to replace the most anti-LGBT legislator in the South, it will be an act of certainty, and it will be a defining moment that will resonate across the country.”
She wasn’t wrong.