Christina Luk ‘21
On Wednesday, October 3, the ELE(Q)T Project for LGBTQ Leadership launched its first symposium: an afternoon-long series of workshops and speaker-panels aimed at training and empowering young LGBTQ leaders to run for political office. The event was capped by a keynote address by Virginia Del. Danica Roem, a Democrat who sits in the Virginia House of Delegates representing the 13th District, which includes the City of Manassas Park, Town of Haymarket, and Prince William County portions of Manassas and Gainesville.
A big shout out to the student organizers of this event: Michael Denton, Co-Chair for Fundraising & Lambda Law Alliance Liaison; Cody Reeves ’19, Co-Chair for Fundraising; Courtney Koelbel ’19, Chair for Operations; Joe LoPresti ’20, Chair for Marketing; Chance McCraw ’21, Chair for Programming; and Timothy Sensenig ’20, Founder and Event Director.
Sensenig opened the event and gave the audience a few statistics to bear in mind: Over 50 percent of all politicians and presidents are lawyers. Compared to the 5 percent of people in the general population who think about running for office, up to 58 percent of lawyers consider running for office. LGBTQ lawyers are therefore well positioned to make a big difference because, even though 10 percent of the population identifies as LGBTQ, only 0.1% of all elected offices identify as such.
Following Timothy’s address, Dean Risa Goluboff took the stage to introduce Del. Roem, who gave the Dean several thumbs-ups throughout her introduction. Del. Roem is the first openly out transgender woman to be elected to state legislature, ousting Republican incumbent Bob Marshall, who held the seat for twenty-five years. Del. Roem is a thirty-four year old stepmom; she’s lived her entire life in her district, and she was a journalist for the Gainesville Times for nine years, winning seven Virginia Press Awards during that time. For young leaders everywhere, Dean Goluboff said, “Delegate Roem represents hope and opportunity.”
Del. Roem had one central message that night: “Be who you are and be that well, because we need you. Your commonwealth needs you.” In her words, there is no picture-perfect candidate for office. She points to herself as an example. As a transgender woman, a stepmother, and a minimum-wage journalist, Danica Roem does not present the image of a typical candidate, but her experiences make her a unique candidate who brings unique skills that the legislature needs. Del. Roem espouses the value of playing to one’s own strengths. She reminded the audience that they can succeed because of who they are and not in spite of it. Personal identity can be a great source of strength. Del. Roem gestured to herself, a self-described Italian woman who loves to talk and who uses her own exuberant sense of humor to combat negativity. Her outgoingness, willingness to engage, and resilience served her well during her door-to-door walking campaign, winning her the votes she needed to win out in her race.
The number one key to her success? Unwavering focus on the issue most important to her constituents: fixing the terrible traffic and road conditions of Route 28. When people opened their doors to her, they all had one very obvious observation and question, and Del. Roem refused to let that constrain her conversation. As she put it, people might not understand what it means to be a transgender woman, but everyone understands traffic. At the same time, Del. Roem recognizes the significance of her election for the LGBTQ community. As the very first transgender woman elected to office, whether she wills it or not, Del. Roem is an effective ambassador. For her, it is both a privilege and a responsibility, and, for the young LGBTQ leaders waiting in the wings, it remains a privilege and a responsibility.
Del. Roem’s speech can be found on the UVA Law YouTube page. For the exclusive benefit of the readers of this publication, this reporter caught up with Del. Roem after the event and scored a really sweet selfie asked a few questions:
What’s one message you’d like to give to people who weren’t able to make it tonight? If you’re well qualified and you’ve got good ideas, then get your ideas to the table. You can succeed by being who you are not despite of it.
What’s the one core attribute that makes a good politician? Constituent service above all else. Don’t single out and stigmatize your constituents.
Do you have any advice for people who feel caught between public service and the private sector? Think of someone who really needs you and, if you weren’t there, think of who would support them. And if you think, in that moment, that a firm is still where you ought to be, then go. But if the thought of that human being who needs your help sticks in your mind, then figure out how to help them.
This reporter also caught up with Sensenig:
Where did you get the inspiration for this event? From Kendall Burchard, current president of Virginia Law Women, who hosted an event last year called “Elect Her.” We also wanted to host an event that would support people going out for office.
What are your next steps? We’re currently deciding now if we want to stick to a one-day symposium format or if we want to do smaller events throughout the year. In either case, we’re done for this year, but please be on the lookout for another ELE(Q)T event next year.
Would you like to say a few words to our readers? VOTE, VOTE, VOTE! There are great student organizations on grounds helping to get people registered: Virginia Law Democrats and Virginia Law Republicans. Also, come to Lambda events and be a good ally. If we’re something you care about, come out and support us.