Virginia’s House of Delegates might do away with a longtime tradition following Danica Roem’s election.
Roem won the state’s District 13 seat on 7 November. She became the first openly transgender person elected to a state office in the US.
People normally address delegates as ‘gentleman’ and ‘gentlewoman’. One of Roem’s ads spoke to the power of being referred to as ‘gentlewoman’ and acknowledging her gender.
However, that may no longer be the case.
According to the Washington Post, House Majority Leader M. Kirkland Cox (R-Colonial Heights) wants to do away with those terms. Going forward if Republicans maintain control of the House, people should refer to lawmakers as ‘delegate’.
There are three close races still to be decided.
‘All members will be afforded the same respect and courtesy that this nearly 400-year-old institution commands,’ said a Cox spokesperson. ‘Speaker-designee Cox believes the ‘gentlelady’ and ‘gentleman’ terminology is outdated, and that referring to everyone as ‘delegate’ is more timely and appropriate.’
However, it’s difficult not to see this as targeting Roem.
Roem herself acknowledged this in a tweet.
I know the intent behind this wasn't charitable toward me and I'm grateful our hopefully future Speaker @deltoscano has my back.
That said, I hope the unintended consequence of this will be non-binary Virginians feeling emboldened to run for office & win.https://t.co/HHjkkZJrXr
— Danica Roem (@pwcdanica) November 22, 2017
Despite the lack of charity towards her, as she describes, she also states if this new policy goes forward, she hopes it makes non-binary Virginians ’emboldened to run for office and win’.
The politician she refers to in the tweet is David J. Toscano. If Democrats take over the House, he will become the House Majority Leader instead of Cox.
Tradition vs pronouns
Several people have spoken out against the proposed change.
Virginia Commonwealth University political-science professor Bob Holsworth stated: ‘They’re willing to change the tradition in this sense before they will explicitly acknowledge Danica Roem as a woman.’
During the election, the Republican Party of Virginia paid for a flyer that used male pronouns to describe Roem.
Roem’s fellow Democratic lawmaker, Kenneth R. Plum (D-Fairfax), also expressed disappointment.
‘If Danica Roem had not won the election we would still be doing the same thing we have done for 400 years, calling each other gentleman or gentlelady. It’s unfortunate that we, in effect, have to single out her election, as unique as it is,’ he said.
Roem took a more diplomatic stance.
In a statement 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.’
Equality Virginia executive director James Parrish provided the following statement to GSN:
‘It would be applaudable the incoming speaker is modernizing protocol in the House of Delegates, however it is clear this is only to avoid properly acknowledging delegate-elect Danica Roem. The Speaker can change the way members are referred to on the House floor but nothing changes that Danica Roem is a transgender woman and will serve honorably as the nation’s first openly transgender member of a state’s general assembly.’