ST. BONAVENTURE — Danica Roem approaches her role as a Virginia delegate the same way she approached being a professional politics reporter for a decade and a student journalist at St. Bonaventure University before that.

A disinterested, neutral, third party.

“Disinterested doesn’t mean you don’t engage, you don’t get thorough. You should be very interested in what you’re writing, but you have to have that level of detachment so you can analyze facts,” Roem, D-Prince William, told St. Bonaventure students, faculty and community members Thursday night on campus. “ … I don’t care what your opinion is. I care what the facts are.”

More than 200 people gathered in the Dresser Auditorium of the John J. Murphy Professional Building to hear Roem, a 2006 St. Bonaventure graduate and one of only a few openly transgender elected officials in the world, lead a wide-ranging discussion during a free event sponsored by St. Bonaventure’s Damietta Center for Multicultural Student Affairs.

Elected last November to represent her native 13th District in the Virginia House of Delegates, Roem, 33, spoke passionately and at-times humorously as she took questions from the audience before sticking around to speak one on one and take photos with dozens of students lined up to meet her.

While offering advice on both journalism and civic engagement, Roem talked about how reporter skills she first gained in lecture halls like the Dresser Auditorium both inspired and prepared her for her political career.  

“The most important thing about being a reporter and an elected official is you are working for the people who either, as a reporter read your product, or as an elected official are your constituents,” Roem said.

Roem, who went by Dan Roem while attending St. Bonaventure, also spoke on her role as the first openly transgender person to ever be elected and seated in a U.S. state legislature.

Although noting being transgender brought plenty of media coverage and donations, Roem said she used the attention to also shed light on her campaign’s hyper-local issues, which included alleviating traffic congestion on Route 28 in Virginia.  

“‘We can talk about transgender issues,’” Roem said she told an NPR reporter who wanted an interview during the campaign. “But we’re going to do that while we’re stuck in traffic on Route 28.”

While focused on issues like transportation and education, Roem is far from reluctant to be a “champion” of the transgender community.

A St. Bonaventure student asked Roem if transphobic insults made online or by political opponents faze her. Roem’s opponent in the election, then-incumbent delegate Bob Marshall, who called himself Virginia’s “chief homophobe,” referred to Roem with male pronouns.

While she can “brush it off,” Roem said her mind races to the transgender teens who have reached out to her in the last year and who also have heard the insults against her.

“What those people need at that point isn’t just for me to sit here and just talk to you about all of my campaign positions like water infrastructure. … At that point they need a champion and someone to say, ‘What you are doing is wrong and this is unacceptable because other people have to read that stuff, too. And it might not affect me in a visceral way, but it might just be that last thing that pushes someone further back into the closet or further off the edge,’” Roem said. “That’s why that kind of hate speech has to stop not just in the Commonwealth of Virginia, but across the United States, period.”

Individuals walking past Phi Beta Kappa Memorial Hall on the evening of March 28 witnessed a line of enthusiastic students, faculty and staff stretching from the auditorium doors, around a corner, through a field, all the way to the entrance of the university’s Integrated Science Center. Groups were clustered for hours, eagerly awaiting the event of the season: William & Mary’s 2018 Atwater Lecture, featuring transgender artist, actress and advocate Laverne Cox.

Made possible through by Alma Mater Productions, the W&M Student Assembly and the Janet and Peter Atwater Lecture Endowment, this year’s lecture was highly anticipated. Auditorium tickets were gone within hours of their early-March release, and for weeks, ticketholders awaited the arrival of the ground-breaking activist and award-winning actress to the William & Mary stage.

“I stand before you tonight a proud, African-American transgender woman,” she said over roaring applause at the beginning of her speech. “From a working class background, raised by single-mother, I stand before you an artist, an actress, a sister and a daughter. I’m not just one thing, and neither are you.”Cox, known for her role as Sophia Burset on Netflix’s “Orange is the New Black,” has repeatedly been recognized for her work as an actress, producer and advocate for transgender rights. Her resume is wrought with “firsts.” The first transgender woman of color to perform in a leading role on a mainstream scripted television show, the first openly transgender person to be nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award in the acting category and the first openly transgender person to appear on the cover of Time magazine, Cox has a young career marked by significant achievement. Her path to achievement, however, was neither simple nor painless.

She explained the shame, marginalization and abuse experienced by transgender people in America, reciting haunting statistics about violence and harassment targeted at them.

“Far too often, to be a transgender person in the United States of America means you are under attack,” she said. “But in the face of all this, we are a resilient people.”

Exposing the presence of the political, institutional and cultural forces that serve to deny transgender women their womanhood, Cox embraced the words of Sojourner Truth, stating, “But, ain’t I a woman?”

The crowd burst into emphatic applause.

“I stand here tonight and claim my womanhood in a context that typically ignores it,” she said.

Cox’s lecture was comprised of anecdotes about her experience as a child in Mobile, Alabama, a gender-nonconforming college student and a transgender woman embarking on a career in performance. She described being bullied, taunted, chased and beaten as an elementary school student. She explained the true meaning of shame and revealed how the condition of shame was imposed on and ingrained into her developmental experience. Through desires to appease her family, desires to “fix” herself and desires to not be alive, Cox spent her young life navigating an intense internalization of unworthiness and vulnerability, she said.

However, Cox explained that she found safety in her imagination.

“I always had music in my head. Dance was my escape.” she said. “I truly believe that, because I had something that I loved to do, that saved my life. I think if we can find something in this world that we are truly passionate about, it can be life-saving.”

Cox told stories of purchasing a fan on a field trip so she could recreate “Gone with the Wind,” being told that if she wasn’t careful, she’d “end up in New Orleans wearing a dress,” and facing individuals who attempted to suppress her gender and sexuality.

She concluded her lecture revealing the antidote to shame: empathy. Cox implored her audience to dialogue with those different than them.

“Go out into your communities and have those difficult conversations across difference,” she said.

Before she departed, Cox engaged in a brief question-and-answer period. Asked to describe the advice she’d have given herself 10 years ago, Cox said, “I would remind myself 10 years ago that without a test, there’s no testimony.”

She explained that a decade ago, as her career was beginning to advance, she was being tested.

“Right now, this is a test,” she said, as if speaking to her former self. “One day, you will have a powerful testimony. One day, you’ll get to stand in front of hundreds of people at the College of William & Mary and tell your story.”

Cox peered over a crowd filled with young people, staring silently, captivated by her words.

“Maybe, someone out there will feel like they’re not alone, and their dreams are possible too,” she said.

 

A Southwood High School senior is fighting back against her principal after he said her senior pictures violate the school’s dress code.

Kami Pham, a transgender student, said principal Jeff Roberts told her pictures would be pulled just two weeks before the yearbook’s publication date, because she’s wearing “feminine” attire and a wig.

“If I wore that same outfit, there would be no problem, no one would say anything. So why treaty Kami any different just because of what her birth certificate says?” Pham’s friend, Tatjana Cotton said.

Furthermore, Principal Roberts said if she wears similar garb for graduation, she will not be allowed to walk.

Cotton organized a meeting between Pham and community leaders who have experience dealing with issues like this.

Pham will meet with the school’s principal on April 3, and go to the school board’s agenda meeting the same day. She also plans to go to the school board meeting on April 24 to protest the decision.

C

A transgender woman was found shot dead inside a car on a rural South Carolina road Easter morning, and authorities do not know if gender identification was the reason for the brutal killing.

The victim, identified as Wendell Price Jr., was found slumped over the steering wheel of the car in rural Chesterfield County on Sunday morning, according to the Associated Press. Price, who owned the car, had been shot multiple times in the neck and shoulder.

“Whoever it was, was angry," Sheriff Jay Brooks said of the killer, according to FOX 46. "You could tell by the number of shots."

Investigators say Price, 29, lived in a mobile home outside Pageland and was known to family and friends as "Sasha Wall," according to WSOC-TV.

Brooks told media outlets that investigators are still working the case and believe Price knew the killer.

"He was dressed (in women's clothing) and had makeup on and that kind of stuff," Brooks told WCNC. "But whether that has anything to do with this case or not, we have no idea."

Investigators have no evidence Price's killing was a hate crime and believe it was more likely domestic violence-related, WSOC reports.

The Anson County Sheriff's Office and State Law Enforcement Division are assisting in the investigation, according to WBTV.

The Human Rights Campaign, a civil rights organization that advocates for LGBTQ people, documented the deaths of at least 28 transgender people who were fatally shot or killed by other violent means in the U.S. in 2017, up from 23 in 2016.

Saturday was Transgender Day Of Visibility. It happens every year. It was trans day of visibility 365 days ago... so can you now see me?

I am trans. I am proud. I am visible. I exist. You may deny it, many do. Yet I wake up in the morning and my substantial hands make breakfast. My feet hit the pedals and I drive a car. I’m heard when I speak to people. I exist. I’m seen, in some ways. And yes, I don’t doubt that on Saturday plenty of cis people turned to their friends and proclaim “why do they need a day of visibility? We have equal marriage, what else do they want?”

I’ll tell you what. I want to be able to choose my actual gender on a form, not the next closest thing. I want trans people to have access to the support and treatment that they need, without years of waiting. I want all genders to be visible in all areas of life. 
 
It doesn’t seem much to ask, really it is just a bit of humanity. To that every human is equal in their value, not worth more or less based on their gender identity or sexuality or race or class status or age. 
 
Trans is not a “look” or a “phase”. Trans people may look like you expect them too, they may not. Trans is not something that will go away if you ignore it. Trans doesn’t always look the same - some come out as kids, others when they’re 60. Trans people might be straight, or gay, or bisexual, or asexual or pansexual. 

In the last year, since trans day of visibility 2017, have I become more visible? No, I don’t think so. I am still married as a “wife” not a spouse or partner. My passport has the wrong gender with no option to correct it. My driving licence is the same. I still have to face being told my gender isn’t real, or I have to choose one way or the other. 

I am trans. I am non binary. I am they/them. I am a partner. I am a person. I am real. Can you see me now? 

 

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